"Constructing the ‘Future of Work’: An analysis of the policy discourse"
Advances in labour-saving technology have sparked a public debate about the ‘Future of Work’. An important role in this debate is played by policy-focused literature produced by institutions such as government agencies, international organisations, think tanks, and consulting firms. Using qualitative coding, the present study analyses this ‘grey’ literature (a total of 195 documents published in English 2013–2018) with a focus on what problem perceptions, frames, and policy recommendations prevail in this literature. We find that the dominant narrative treats technological advances as a prime cause of challenges in the labour market and places the main responsibility on the shoulders of individuals in the form of ‘upskilling’. We show how versions of this narrative vary across different types of institutions, what types of organisations are the most prolific publishers of policy papers in this space, and we offer a critique of dominant narratives within the ‘Future of Work’ discourse.
Despite common tendencies and a ‘standard narrative’, which we lay out, there is no consensus in this literature either regarding the problems arising from the FOW or regarding adequate solutions and there arguably cannot be in this ideologically contested policy field. The policy literature in this field is often advocacy for vested interests, even when outputs present themselves as scoping papers or instances of ‘blue sky thinking’. The kind of advice given depends on the type of institution: for instance, consulting firms tend to promote more cheerful, laissez-faire and business-oriented discourse, government actors offer more problem-oriented and interventionist framings. The FOW policy literature often claims to speak for groups – be it businesses, workers, countries, etc. – and engages in grand abstractions and projections (‘the future’, ‘technology’, ‘the economy’, etc.). While there are frequent references to scientific work, which we tentatively analysed, nuances and caveats of basic research tend to get lost in translation when processed into these broad audience formats. Going forward, we advocate for keeping a critical scholarly eye on the products of a prolific professional ‘discourse industry’ producing advice in sensitive areas like technology, work and employment policy. (p.17)
KeywordsThe Future Of Work, Employment, Skills, Technology
ThemesTechnology, Skills, Automation
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