Naomi Climer on the Future of Good Work

‘The new technological revolution is reshaping our economy and society – and with it the lives of millions of working people across the country. A big question in the debate about the impact of the technology on work is whether automation and AI-related technologies tend to enable or replace people. This is linked to the question about whether technology-enabled changes to work will reduce or exacerbate inequalities. I think that building a fair or ‘moral’ economy that ‘puts people first’ and is based on a commitment to prioritising good work is the way forward. This means refocusing our efforts on the design and dispersal of technology - or ‘co-bots’ - that enhance human work. There’s an increasingly urgent need for new thinking about the most appropriate policy architecture to support this “people first” approach to navigate through the technological revolution, shaping a future in which innovation, social justice and individual development grow together. 

There’s an increasingly urgent need for new thinking about the most appropriate policy architecture to support a ‘people first’ approach to transition

Work sits at the center of people’s lives, communities and the economy. It’s the core intersection between the economy and society. So if we focus creating a future in which work is fairer and better – and everyone’s experience from work is improved – the economy should grow. Making better and fairer work is also the best way to distribute new wealth, at least at this point time. Good work sits at the heart of inclusive growth, as we discuss here

What is a people-centred approach? It’s technology designers thinking about the implications of new designs on the quality of human work. It’s business putting human development at the centre of their automation and focusing on reskilling their employees. It’s government making good work a core objective of social and economic policy-making and industrial strategy; and rethinking life-long learning and support for people in transition with a multi-dimensional approach which coordinates policy across departments. It’s education institutions working with business, as well as government, to develop better and more accessible pathways for training at different points in people’s career cycles.

This is what we have concluded at the Institute for the Future of Work. That’s why we are publishing our Charter for Good Work, continuing our journey towards creating a framework for better and fairer work.  

There is now increasing consensus on mega trends that bear on work and working models in which technological  innovation is a significant driver: the automation of human work will be between 10-30% of current jobs; whilst almost every profession is affected to some extent, retail, transport and manufacturing are amongst those most susceptible to fast-paced change; we’re seeing increasing inequality of wealth and income; a growing insecure workforce; and increasing talent mismatch in the labour force.

That’s why we’re publishing the Charter for Good Work

So the question becomes: how can we build on this new consensus and start collaborating to build practical solutions?

If we work collaboratively, our understanding will be better, our solutions more innovative and our impact and influence will be amplified. Building on the new consensus on mega trends, the Institute for the Future of Work is calling for broader dialogue about the conditions needed for the future of good work The Charter for Good Work provides a basis for this:

1)    Access - Everyone should have equal access to good work

2)    Fair pay - Everyone should be fairly paid 

3)    Fair conditions - Everyone should work on fair conditions set out in fair terms

4)    Equality - Everyone should be treated equally and without discrimination

5)    Dignity - Work should promote dignity

6)    Autonomy - Work should promote autonomy

7)    Wellbeing - Work should promote physical and mental wellbeing 

8)    Support - Everyone should have access to institutions and people who can represent their interests

9)    Participation - Everyone should be able to take part in determining and improving working conditions

10) Learning - Everyone should have access to facilities for career guidance and training.

The Charter is a framework and tool for policy-orientation and practice aimed at future good work. It’s drawn on national and international sources, and connects the perspectives of philosophy, economics and law. It’s designed to encourage commitment and fresh-thinking from government, institutions and business about the role of work in society and how they can apply these principles to prioritise the creation of good work well into the future. Following a consultation, we will finalise the Charter and then undertake in-depth work to explore ways to implement the principles across various environments. 

We think that focusing on good work as the foundation of a modern moral economy responds to an overwhelming need for a clear, shared vision capable of shaping our direction of travel as Brexit approaches: a vision that transcends political boundaries and stretches beyond 2019. It’s especially important to actively shape the future of work we want now we’re that seeing the first signs of a increase in automation investment: imports of industrial robots increased 72% year-on-year to July 2018 and the Bank of England has identified multiple case-studies of this across its 12 regional offices. This is big news and good news, so long as we do some big thinking too. 

We’re recruiting so we can start building real, practical solutions, moving on from what we know to what we don’t know: where the new good jobs are and how we can manage transition smoothly from old to new work across sectors and occupations. We’re also looking for partners to drive this further and explore application of the Charter in different contexts, so do reach out to us if you’d like to take this forward. Now is the time to focus on people-centred development and use of tech that augments human skills, rather than replaces them, so that work is made better and fairer.’ 

This blog is based on IFOW Co-Chair Naomi Climer’s speech at the ACAS Conference: Shaping the future of work to build prosperity which took place on 10th October 2018. An earlier version was published by the New Statesman here.

Paula Hagan