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The Future of Work and Workers

People and Gears

We live in a time of growing anxiety about the nature and availability of jobs in the future and the consequences of current transformations for future populations. Begun in 2014, the CASBS project on the future of work and workers investigates how work is changing globally and the implications for people, business models, politics, and economies. It considers and catalyzes research and policy proposals on transformations in technology, skill requirements, social protections, and workers’ voice. The initial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation led to the production of a series of nearly 100 short articles for Pacific Standard, articles that explore what a wide-ranging group of authors (from futurists to sweatshop labor organizers, from social scientists to leaders in business and education) believe are the most important issues confronting work and workers in the 21st century. Subsequently, the working group received requests from and has met with a multi-party group of German parliamentarians focused on these questions, the Danish Confederation of Enterprises, and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and his staff. 

After the publication of these articles, however, it became apparent that many other initiatives on the future of work and workers were emerging alongside the the CASBS project. The working group met to determine if it had done its work and should disband or whether there was a niche CASBS could fill. This led to a new emphasis: No other project was as concerned as we are with the future of workers. There are many discussions of job and labor markets and educating the next generation for the world of work in which people will find themselves. Yet, no other project is as resolutely concerned with the effects on lives and communities, the forms of social and economic protection that must evolve, new means for giving employees and workers power within this new set of spaces, and the very meaning of work itself as a source of dignity and identity. 

As the project has matured, the group has emphasized some of the following:

  • Exploration of platforms designed by a combination of engineers and social scientists to achieve multiple ends. Participants have created new sorts of work teams (“flash organizations”) and are investigating digital means to enhance workers’ voice and power. This piece has support from the Stanford Cyber Initiative funded by the Hewlett Foundation.

  • Universal basic income experiments. Several participants have been interacting with the experiments funded by Y-Combinator in Oakland and by the Economic Security Project in Stockton as well as with the Basic Income Lab at Stanford. Our discussion addresses issues about both the approach and the projected outcome, given that the short-lived nature of the experiments means long-range promises of support cannot be given. The discussion is now turning to alternative forms of income support and social insurance.

  • Reassessment of skills and how they are developed. Research into the complex skills of undervalued labor — construction, child care, etc. — reveals that the tacit knowledge embedded in work is learned and passed on through networks. Recognizing that these are skills and determining which of these kinds of skills will be useful in the future leads to a rethinking of legal regulations and other public policies governing work.

  • Socioeconomic weather stations. This is an initiative to identify what kind of data we have to assess what counts as a skill, a job, and work. We are considering how best to link data sets, fill in data gaps, and use qualitative materials to supplement the administrative and statistical data currently available. The Pew Charitable Trust provided funding for an initial workshop.

Read an article that provides an overview of the project's first two years here.


For more information, please contact CASBS program director Federica Carugati (