Technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution are transforming the world of work. From 3D printed smart houses to AI based hiring and skilling, emerging technologies are disrupting traditional manufacturing processes, business models, employment relationships, forms of expertise and competencies, and even the meaning of work itself. While previous industrial revolutions also led to disruptions in labor markets, the speed, scope, and ubiquity of the current revolution make it unique and transformative, not just for the world of work, but social relations and society itself.

The dominant narrative is one of ‘creative destruction’, the idea that technological unemployment in the short run will be offset by job creation in the long run. New types of skills will be needed and governments and people need to start preparing themselves early. The proposal for a universal basic income is being revisited in policy circles, as a way to distribute productivity gains and offset labor displacement. Some observers have even begun to contemplate a post-work society, and its impact on the very essence of human identity and sociality.

Global narratives on the future of work must be contextualised to local contexts. Much of the debate around the impact of 4IR technologies has been dominated by the encounters, trajectories, and needs of industrialised economies. The realities and priorities of many countries in the ‘global south’ are likely to be markedly different - in many southern economies, earlier industrial revolutions are still unfolding, millions of people still lack access to basic amenities, and finding regular formal employment remains aspirational for most. Yet, emerging technologies, steered wisely, can enable these economies to leap-frog less efficient and unsustainable development pathways.

Further, the mutual constitution, or co-production, of technology and society, necessitates that technological trajectories and their impact will be different across social contexts, intersecting with local beliefs, practices, social and cultural systems. Unless we situate the impact of emerging technologies on the world of work in localised contexts, there is a risk that dominant imaginaries on the future of work will direct research, funding, and solution-ing toward problems that do not align with the development priorities of the economies and people of the global south.

Our Future of Work & Learning Initiative is clustered around 6 themes
  • Automation in the Workplace

  • Labor Well-being in a Gig Economy

  • Rights, Agency, and Social Protection

  • Women & Work in a Digital Economy

  • Education & Skilling for Future Jobs