The future of work
Digitization, automation, and networked communications are increasingly shaping societies, labour markets, and employment opportunities around the world. Ongoing changes in digital communications and computing affect the nature of work and are poised to have long lasting impacts on marginalized populations.
Technological innovation is providing important economic opportunities in the global South. The digitization of work is enabling job seekers to enter new labour markets, often in wealthier countries, that were previously inaccessible due to barriers in labour migration and high communication costs. This mobility of virtual labour has the potential to raise incomes and move people into the formal economy by freeing workers from geographical constraints and matching individual skill sets to online opportunities.
However, technological innovations are also disrupting social and economic institutions that have been developed to support labourers and workers’ rights. Online work is eroding labour protection standards and rights, and could unleash a global race to the bottom in wages. Moreover, the increasing automation of many industries may wipe out entire labour markets and send millions into unemployment.
Employment, which has served as a key organizing principle for society since the industrial revolution, contributes towards a person’s sense of belonging. Social groups with shared career expectations and societal norms coalesce around these shared experiences. For instance, promoting equal employment opportunities has become an important component of economic and social inclusion programs for women, cultural minorities, and youth.
A solid evidence base is needed to ensure appropriate policy and social responses to the many challenges raised by new modes of working. Research on educational innovations and skills building will also be vital to ensure that capacity exists to take advantage of new kinds of work.
Building on a body of existing work, IDRC’s Networked Economies program is currently planning a large scale global research network to improve understanding of how digitization and automation are impacting labour markets and people in developing countries. A number of existing research initiatives supported by the Networked Economies program are already investigating key themes.
Research themes include:
- the sharing economy
- digital learning innovations
- virtual labour rights
- digital platforms
- online governance
- labour discrimination
- gender equity in virtual labour markets
These research initiatives are contributing to an evidence base on the future of work that will support improved policymaking and practices in the global South, with the aim of mitigating the potential harms caused by technologies’ most disruptive tendencies, and empowering marginalized populations to harness the advantages.