WOW members Adrian Wilkinson and Michael Barry unpack the changing context of work and employment in their new book The Future of Work and Employment.

For many years, when predicting what jobs of the future might look like, we usually saw two grand narratives: a utopian, leisure society which promotes the knowledge worker, empowerment and portfolio careers and the other a darker version described as intensification, surveillance,  casualisation, austerity, financialisation, low pay, long hours and digital technology with working life as nasty brutish and long.

There is considerable global debate in both academia and the wider community over the direction of work and the desirability of developments both for work and personal life. A major part of this debate is also influenced by the globalisation of work, the impact of new technologies and the shift of skills and knowledge to low cost labour countries.

In their book, Professors Wilkinson and Barry argue that these stylised accounts lack granularity and are not based on interrogating the evidence, but more building a picture based on a series of unreliable predictions or using one or two case studies to generalise into the future of work.

Perhaps the positive grand narrative is downplayed, and the new vision is more alarmist and gets considerably more air time – perhaps bad news sells? One only needs to read news headlines to argue this point:

  • Artificial Intelligence WARNING: Can intelligent robots replace human jobs by 2025? (Express, UK)
  • With His Job Gone, an Autoworker Wonders, ‘What Am I as a Man?’ (The New York Times, US)
  • You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot – and Sooner Than You Think (Mother Jones, US)
  • Robot automation will ‘take 800 million jobs by 2030’ – report (BBC News, UK)

“Scholarly research provides less exciting but more sober assessments. Also, elements of continuity are always less exciting than paradigm shifts and revolution. Our aim in this book is to take a forward-looking perspective on the field with the aim of pointing the way to future research areas in work and employment relations,” says Professor Wilkinson and Barry.

Photo Credit: Training Journal

This book focuses on key research needs over the next five years and linking this agenda back to how it should inform practice.  Contributing authors observe several trends providing predictions of where employment relations is headed, such as:

  • Without leaders who possess the skills and innovation to manage technology, the threat of robotization and AI will lead to searches for ever-cheaper ways of getting work done, pressuring people to move out of employment and to get them to provide the work in other ways;
  • Internships and other forms of unpaid work experience can be structured fairly and in a way that promotes, rather than diminishes employment opportunities for young people who currently face uncertain prospects in the transition from education to work; and
  • While diversity and inclusion appear at the forefront of ER, despite improvements in workplace diversity and inclusion, insecure forms of work, as seen in the gig-economy, can negatively impact mental health, as well as people’s economic wellbeing.

 “This book will has just hit the shelves and we look forward to sharing a new outlook on the future of work”, says Professor Wilkinson.

Other contributing authors from WOW include Professor David Peetz, Associate Professor Gina Murray and Dr Edwin Trevor-Roberts.