The Futures of the Future of Work

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By Leopold P. Mureithi

Some Groundwork

A few weeks ago, the International Labour Organization (ILO) published Work for a Brighter Future,[i] a report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work (GloCoFOW) which was set up in October 2017 to craft a centennial Festschrift of the ILO which “was created in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, to reflect the belief that universal and lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice.”[ii]

GloCoFOW’s approach to their work was doing research and participation in policy dialogues at national, regional and global levels. This produced six issue notes, twelve issues briefs, and eight research papers[iii]. Through this approach, it recognized that “we now face one of the most important challenges of our times [where]fundamental and disruptive changes in working life inherently affect our entire societies…transforming the world of work [through]technological advances – artificial intelligence, automation and robotics – [whereby]the skills of today will not match the jobs of tomorrow and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.”[iv]

To address this challenge, GloCoFOW proposes “a human-centred agenda for the future of work that strengthens the social contract by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice. This agenda consists of three pillars of action, which in combination would drive growth, equity and sustainability for present and future generations.”[v] These are: increasing investment in people’s capabilities; increasing investment in the institutions of work; and increasing investment in decent and sustainable work. Specifically, they call for:[vi]

  1. Establishment of an effective lifelong learning system.
  2. Institutions, policies and strategies that will support people through future of work transitions.
  3. Gender equality.
  4. Universal social protection coverage from birth to old age.
  5. Universal Labour Guarantee that provides a labour protection floor for all workers, which includes fundamental workers’ rights, an “adequate living wage”, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces.
  6. Working‑time autonomy that meets the needs of both workers and enterprises.
  7. Collective representation and social dialogue.
  8. The use of technology in support of decent work and a “human-in-command” approach to technology.
  9. Investments in key areas that promote decent and sustainable work.
  10. Supplementary indicators of progress towards well-being, environmental sustainability and equality.

When launching GloCoFOW, the ILO Director-General, “emphasized that the future of work is not predetermined: Decent work for all is possible but societies have to make it happen.”[vii] In their “final comment,”[viii]GloCoFOW “sees its report as only the beginning of the journey. We hope that the journey will be carried forward, with broadest possible participation, nationally and internationally….Our task has been to identify what we believe to be the key challenges for the future of work and to recommend how to address them. We know that these questions are being examined in other venues and we do not expect that our views will be the only ones to be heard.”[ix]

In Search of Multiple Futures

The admission by GloCoFOW that the future of work is not predetermined, and their hope that others would chip in, is an opportunity for futurists to seriously reengage in this matter of human interest in the search for those multiple futures. One initiative that comes to mind on this front is The Millennium Project (TMP) future work/tech 2050, with its three scenarios: it’s complicated – a mixed bag; political/economic turmoil – future despair; and if humans were free – the self-actualization economy.[x]TMP’S entry points in dissecting the issues are four thematic charrettes on education/learning; government; science and technology; and culture.

To-date, nineteen countries have held national workshops to explore the possible domestication of such scenarios and operationalize the resultant strategies; ten are at various planning stages; and another eleven are exploring to mount such.”[xi] Among those planning are China, El Salvador, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Zambia. These avail several fora for methodological and applied futures praxes, essentially a new phase of the futures of the future of work: to nail down alternative futures.

Future-proofing Work

ILO’s human-centred agenda recognizes that a surprise-free extrapolation (current futures) scenario can only serve as a baseline. But most future pathways to crafting truly human futures are strewn with complexities, constraints, disruptions, and wildcards. To future-proof work, requires futures preparedness through such tools as exploratory scenarios, foresight and anticipation, as well as action participatory research.

Opus continua.

Correspondence

Leopold P. Mureithi is a Professor of Economics at the University of Nairobi. He can be contacted at Lpmureithi@hotmail.com

References

[i] ILO. (2019). Work for a brighter future – Global Commission on the Future of Work. Geneva: International Labour Office.

[ii]ILO. (05/03/2019). History of the ILO, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/history/lang–en/index.htm

[iii]The Future of Work. (05/03/2019). https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/future-of-work/publications/research-papers/lang–en/index.htm

[iv]ILO, Work for a Brighter Future, op. cit., p. 18.

[v] Ibid, p. 11.

[vi] Ibid, p. 51.

[vii]ILO. (06/03/2019). https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/history/lang–en/index.htm, op. cit. Coincidentally, GloCo could stand for “think globally, act locally.”

[viii]Work for a Brighter Future, op. cit., p.57.

[ix] Loc. cit.

[x] TMP. (07/03/2019). http://107.22.164.43/millennium/AI-Work.html

[xi]TMP. (07/03/2019). The Millennium Project Newsletter 4.0: http://www.millennium-project.org/3730-2/

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