Work 2030: Future Scenarios for India

Supported by EMSD, we worked with HSRC in South Africa and CIPPEC in Argentina to develop and compares scenarios for the future of work in India, South Africa and Argentina.

This study presents four future scenarios pertaining to the likely impact of emerging 4IR technologies on the future of work in India. Scenarios are hypothetical yet plausible stories about the future that help trace the trajectories of present day decision making to future outcomes. They provide a framework for comprehending future uncertainty and identifying preferable policy trajectories.

Many changes relating to 4IR are yet to unfold in the Indian context, making it difficult to project longer term impact; moreover, there is a paucity of data on labor market trends and employment conditions in India. Traditional methodologies are therefore inadequate for unpacking the likely impacts of 4IR technologies on the world of work in India; foresight methods will be needed to create anticipatory knowledge.

In the Technocracy Rules scenario, adoption of 4IR technologies has brought tremendous productivity and efficiency gains to a select elite, primarily owners and managers of large technology companies. Automation has resulted in large scale job displacement in the organized sector, and only those with requisite education and skills have been able to leverage new digital economy opportunities. However, work place surveillance is on the rise, making even qualified workers fear their future prospects. Many small to medium enterprises have been bought over by large multi-nationals, while many others continue to struggle to access more basic, older, technologies. A growing number of people access new opportunities through digital platforms, but wages and employment conditions are deteriorating for most.

In the AI for All scenario, high technological adoption has been made to align with societal goals through innovation policy, taxation, and social sector investments. While large scale manufacturing has shrunk, dispersed manufacturing is on the rise especially among small and medium enterprises, along with growth in the service sector focusing on hyper-local solutions. A large number of data scientists are serving India’s data driven service sector. The platform economy is growing, and has been regulated to support workers through new forms of ownership. The Green economy and creative industries are on the rise. New forms of taxation are supporting skilling and training programs for workers across age groups.

In the Equity First scenario, equal wealth distribution and social cohesion across class and gender has been prioritized over technological adoption and high economic growth. Large multinational companies (MNC’s) and private corporations have left India due to the protectionist market landscape. While this has impeded economic growth and reduced large scale private employment, public investment in social welfare and security schemes, combined with strong unemployment benefits and skilling measures ensure worker well being. Recognition and expansion of the care economy has encouraged women’s participation in the workforce, providing gainful employment in the service sector. Despite low technological adoption, the digital and platform economy is robust at the local level, primarily driven on worker cooperative models.

In the Fracture scenario, crony capitalism and state neglect have irrevocably wrecked the Indian economy, which suffers from low growth and high inequality. The acute water crisis has impacted agriculture and the manufacturing sector, forcing India’s physical and digital infrastructure— from internet connections to road systems— to go into a decline. It is impossible for most industries and businesses to adopt advanced technologies and remain competitive, leading to their collapse.The state withdraws from educational funding, social welfare and skilling schemes. Increasing unemployment creates labour unrest, and the government criminalizes all union activities, developing a surveillance state. The defense sector is soon the largest employer in the organized sector. Informal and illegal employment is rampant, while women retreat further into various forms of unpaid work.


Vikrom Mathur

Vikrom believes that interdisciplinary research on cultural attitudes towards nature and technology need to inform contemporary debates on societal futures. His research interests include the governance of emerging technologies, social and cultural dimensions of technological transitions, cultural perceptions of environmental risk, dynamics between science and policy, and Cultural Theory. He is currently setting up India’s first Urban Living Lab in Panjim as a platform to design, test and fine-tune socio-technical innovation in local urban spaces. He has a PhD from the Institute of Science, Society, and Innovation at the University of Oxford.

Urvashi Aneja

Urvashi studies the politics, social impacts, and ethics of technology transitions in the global south. She has written extensively on the challenges and risks of AI in India, the emerging gig economy and labor well-being, data governance and gender and technology. She has served on government committees for artificial intelligence and frontier technologies. Urvashi is also an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, a Tech and Social justice champion at the World Economic Forum, and a former member of the T20 Task Force for the Future of Work in the G20. She regularly writes for national media publications and has been quoted in the BBC, Reuters, CNBC, Times of India, and Indian Express, among others. Previously she was a Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and Associate Professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs. Urvashi has a Doctorate from the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Oxford