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The future of work (yes, again)

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Whilst the debate around the future of work has been trendy for quite a while, the deluge of reports hitting the web in the last few weeks has been quite something to behold.

Recently we had the Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplacereport from CBRE and Genesis, which was less about how work will look in 15 years time as what kind of workplace Millennials would love to have right now.

We then had New Ways of Working from the Virgin backed B Team, which looked at some of the things driving the change in our workplace.

We’ve even had the recent launch of the crowdsourced Workplace Conversation, which is a project supported by a number of UK professional bodies.

You might be wondering if we really need another report on the topic, but that hasn’t perturbed The Hamilton Project, who have recently released their own paper on the matter.

If you haven’t heard of the group before, they’re a think tank who aim to guide US policy makers on economic issues.

So the future of work is nothing if not pertinent, but does their report add anything new to the mix?

Well, kinda.  Rather than looking at the situation from a wholly utopian perspective, they look at things like the growth (or not) in wages and how the changing technology landscape will influence things like income disparity and so on.

It’s more the future of work in the sense that Andrew McAfee or Jaron Lanier might explore it.

Were the Luddites right?

It goes without saying that there have been no shortage of technology revolutions, and indeed the very name Luddite heralds from the hostile reaction to a new technology hitting the market back in the 19th Century.

It’s far from uncommon therefore that people will believe that the arrival of new technology will put people out of work and spread economic distress.

The question is, whether the current breadth of new technologies, whether it’s driverless cars, drones, artificial intelligence, even the sharing economy will have a bigger and more far reaching impact than before.

The report suggests that the pace of the changes currently occurring in society may also play a big role, as we have less time to adapt and for new models to emerge.

It has prompted many thinkers to suggest that income inequality will soar, as either those with capital or those with high skill levels prosper, and the rest see their wages gradually eroded.

Of course, such thinkers are not alone, and others suggest a much more positive picture, at least in the sense that they don’t believe the current changes are ‘that’ transformative, and indeed some will argue that innovation has actually slowed rather than advanced in recent years.

The report highlights the crucial role of education in giving people the skills to thrive.  Ironically, as the web has put information and learning freely at our fingertips like never before, there are signs that our education levels are stagnating.

There have, of course, been a number of thoughtful explorations of how things might materialize over the coming years, both from an optimistic and pessimistic perspective.  The one thing they all share is that none seem at all certain in their prognosis.

In that sense, this report is in good company in that it highlights the uncertainty inherent in the topic, but they do nonetheless provide an interesting insight into many of the issues involved.

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