Marieke Blom (ING) © IO

Marieke Blom, chief economist at ING, has observed something remarkable in recent years. In a growing economy, the average productivity remained at the level of years ago. “We did start working more hours, which made it look as if we were still going in the right direction, but if you look at what we’re doing per hour, then you just have to conclude that we should do better.”

Even in the industry, productivity fell a little, says Blom at the opening of the Dutch Technology Week 2019. “So what we really need is smarter machines and people who can handle those machines in a smarter way. For our economy to make real progress, it requires that our technology is able to become more productive. In addition, there must be more people who are able to cope with this. This means that ‘lifelong learning’ must be much more clearly present in our minds. Many people will have to make the transition from their current position to a place in the technology sector”.

However, this is where we encounter a problem, says Blom. “The education market for people who are looking for such a second chance is very opaque. And in addition: where exactly are these jobs? So it is not only the education market that needs to be more transparent but also the job market. It is up to the technology sector to find a solution to this, not only because new people are most needed there, but also because these people – in our common interest – need to be properly educated.”

Women currently account for 15% of jobs in the Dutch technology sector. “The percentage is growing, but too slowly. And the more so if you compare that with other European countries. Maybe even the very countries from which you would not expect it in the first place: Greece, Turkey, Romania and Portugal: in all these countries, women make up at least 30% of the tech labour market. The Netherlands is really dangling at the very bottom of Europe.”

“With 15% of the jobs in the Dutch technology sector filled by women, the Netherlands is dangling at the very bottom of Europe.”

Blom says there’s a reason for that. “We here in the Netherlands have given our own twist to being a woman. We think a working week of 20 hours is fine because we also want to be able to continue to perform our care tasks. In that respect, we have a different social preference, even a different culture. And note, it’s really not innate. Just take a look at other countries, which show that things can be done differently. I get so tired of those people who say ‘it’s just the way it is’. It’s not like that at all! Why does it always have to be the woman who arranges the work at home? And let’s be clear: it’s not just men who do that. Women themselves can be more ambitious. Especially in technology, a field of work that women often have a wrong idea of, partly because of the lack of role models. Yes, technology is far too important to be left to men.”

Energy and sustainability

According to Blom, the economy and technology are also closely intertwined in the energy transition and the pursuit of sustainability. “Economists will have to ensure that the price incentives for energy are such that people actually start using renewable energy. Energy that works more efficiently and therefore requires less, but is also generated more sustainably. So that by 2050 we will only need half of the energy in the industry compared to today. And that the supply will also be fairly distributed by then. We want to make the transition a reality without having to completely change our behaviour.”

According to Blom, it even goes so far that a well-functioning alliance between the economy and technology can help biodiversity. “This is a problem that we can never worry about enough. Species are disappearing so fast that it is irreversible. With more efficient food, produced without damaging our ecosystem, we can help make this stop. And with a smarter use of raw materials, not only in terms of supply and transport but also without damage to waste. The less material, the less damage to biodiversity.”

For this reason, Blom advocates new design and manufacturing processes that prevent damage to the world. And what is produced should be reused as much as possible, for example by means of modular composition. In addition, she sees great advantages in better insight for the consumer into the total production costs, rather than just the purchase costs of a product. “All of this should lead to us sharing our goods more, rather than buying everything ourselves. In the automotive sector, this is already happening a little bit, but there is much room for improvement. For the younger generation, too, the status of ownership appears to be even stronger than we sometimes hope.”

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About the author

Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.