In some ways, the future of work is here; in others, it is shrouded in uncertainty or heralded with great expectations. Of course, throughout human history, work has changed, as have societies. Transformations in how and where work is conducted, by whom it is performed and under what conditions, as well as how it is remunerated and valued, have come hand in hand with changes in individual and family life, social cohesion and wellbeing, and civic and political life.  

Today, a number of observed mega-trends are again shifting the tectonics of work: Pervasive digital technology is opening up boundless new opportunities while at the same time blurring workplace boundaries and impacting human behaviours and expectations in ways that may still be unknown.  

Continuing population growth will create the biggest – but potentially most precarious and polarised – global workforce to date, with sustainability implications of an existential scale. Some of these trends are in competition with one another, others are developing swiftly and intersecting in ways that we are just beginning to discern. Intertwined with the above, are trends with huge open ends: Automation may or may not create job vacuums, while co-working with sophisticated technology may be the boon and/or doom of future workforces. These outcomes are not pre-determined, they will be shaped by the policies and choices we make.  

Given the many complex forces at play, linear predictions and conclusions may be simplistic, and no single policy intervention can serve as a panacea. However, for governments, citizens and businesses to be able to harness the opportunities and mitigate the risks ahead, it is necessary to monitor and understand the trends currently underway so that they can either optimise current institutions and policies, redesign them, or innovate them entirely.  

This means asking ourselves a number of questions:  

  • How will these changes transform our well-being and affect our societal ‘glue’?
  • What does this imply in terms of how we govern our societies and what is needed for a renewed, effective and sustainable social contract to be forged?
  • How can policymakers and the public sector respond to and anticipate these unprecedented challenges?• How can education and training systems prepare citizens for jobs or professions that do not yet exist?
  • What instruments and interventions can lead to more inclusivelabourmarkets?