02 December, 2021

Making the Future Work for All Workers


The Ditchley community debrief, from the conference on Making the Future Work for All Workers, was held on the 19 Novembe 2021. The main themes to emerge from the discussion were:

The urgency of action. Ditchley’s conference Making the Future Work highlighted the need for society to adapt quickly with a focus on mechanisms to enforce and encourage change. All aspects of education from an early age, to higher education, to reskilling mid-careers/older citizens were examined.

Collaboration is needed on addressing current and future work challenges. Ensuring that we can learn from businesses and countries on successful practices in upskilling individuals is key. Unions, employers’ associations, and the government can work together to develop initiatives, share the burden of cost, and increase accessibility to training/education (by paying for education or providing childcare).

Societal adaptivity. The pandemic has shown us that adaptivity and responsiveness to the evolving context in the future of work are as important as planning. Workforces have been shown to be resilient, but there has been a rebalancing of individual and societal values around work. Sectors such as care that were previously neglected have been brought to the forefront. There has been an increased call for purposeful jobs that accounts for pressures of every-day life, too.

From a great reckoning to a great resignation. There has been and will continue to be large scale job changes. The realignment is caused by both evolving values as well as technological shifts in the nature of work. Younger demographics seek better pay alongside meaning in their work. Employers meanwhile seek to increase productivity and reduce costs. This forms a dichotomy between amplifying worker productivity and substituting it with AI and automation.

Developing alternative routes of education and training. Education was critiqued as not going far enough in improving productivity and providing viable vocational routes related to technology (smart factories and AI work). There has been better engagement from education with the world of work, which needs to be encouraged.

Tailored responses to different workers. In designing initiatives for a future for all workers, we must understand the different contexts. Some workers will see jobs lost due to automation but some are also choosing to leave out of dissatisfaction. Addressing the root causes to this varies. A greater focus on these details is paramount. In the gig economy for example, many choose this for its flexibility but there remain many who choose it out of necessity and are in precarious employment.

Differing pathways for the future remain. A varied perception of the future requires adaptability and a continued ongoing discussion, in order to better understand different outcomes. Corporations are predominantly focused on attracting those they view as high potentials, whilst some are focused more so on whether automation will support or worsen quality of jobs. Thirdly, automation could lead to a temporary period of fluctuation and job scarcity. Supporting people affected and understanding the extent to which business and state are responsible are core in our focusing towards the future.

Yearning for a shared purpose. People seek a shared narrative to unite them. There is an ongoing desire for work to share ethical viewpoints (such as sustainability) and to ensure that workers feel valued. Supporting retraining and upskilling is an avenue for this. Accessibility is needed however, with many workers having little savings and living paycheque to paycheque. Even if resources are made freely available online, workers require financial and time resources (childcare provisions). Unions and employers need to coalesce to develop schemes that can account for these underlying barriers.

Sharing the burden of responsibility. Firms should take account for on the job retraining that is paid for in situations where it is feasible, in a shorter period of time. Firms should be encouraged to include retraining support in redundancy packages. Governments should play a supporting role in developing systems of childcare provisions, training, and apprenticeships as the likes of Germany and Canada use.

The epistemology of how to learn. Across an individual’s life, people will change jobs many times. However, it is of the upmost importance that people are taught from an early age to know how to properly access and use resources for their own development. Work is evolving at an increasingly accelerated pace, so adaptation must be encouraged for future generations.

Our future is not predetermined. Policy choices we make now will have an impact on the value of work. If technology is used to augment rather than primarily to replace work, and education/reskilling is paid for, then we can mitigate for some of the shifts caused by AI and automation. Business will respond to the resources they have available, so emphasising continued skills development can lead to a more positive utilisation and valuing of people in work.

Click here for a link to the terms of reference for the conference.