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Naomi Climer

Co-chair of the Institute for the Future of Work

10 steps for ensuring the fourth industrial revolution puts workers first

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 it enables or replaces people. I believe that building a people-centred and ‘moral’ economy based on a commitment to prioritising good work is the way forward. This means refocusing on technology that enhances human work. There’s an increasingly urgent need for new thinking about the most appropriate policy architecture to support a people first approach to navigate through the technological revolution, shaping a future in which innovation, social justice and individual development grow together.

Society’s most pressing needs are ultimately tied to the reduction of social and economic inequalities. Work sits at the centre of people’s lives, communities and the economy. It’s the core intersection between the economy and society. So if we focus on creating a future in which work is fairer and better – and everyone’s experience of work is improved – the economy should grow and there will be more to distribute. Making better and fairer work is also the best way to distribute new wealth, at least at this point in time. Good work sits at the heart of inclusive growth.

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. It’s education institutions working with business to develop better and more accessible pathways for training.

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

Our mission at the new institute is to equip Britain for the future of work by building practical solutions to make work better and fairer. It’s a mission rooted in the Future of Work Commission, launched by Tom Watson MP in September 2016. Now the Institute for the Future of Work co-chaired by myself and Sir Chris Pissarides, the Nobel prize winning economist, is taking this work forward independent of Parliament. We’re doing the traditional things you’d expect a think tank to do, but we’re also determined to do things in the real world.

There is now increasing consensus on the mega trends that the technological revolution has produced: the numbers of jobs affected is believed to be at 10-30%; whilst almost every profession is affected to some extent, retail, transport and manufacturing are amongst those most vulnerable; and analytical thinking and innovation skills will be more valued than manual dexterity.

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

According to the World Economic Forum, in 2013 Italy’s motorsport manufacturing companies showed how technology is presenting new opportunities for good work. The likes of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Dallara were facing significant skills shortages while declining sectors – including the local textiles industry – were shedding jobs. The motorsport companies worked together to retrain the displaced workers with new, in-demand skills. These workers developed a diverse set of roles in the motorsport industry – as carbon-fibre laminators and fitters, aerodynamics engineers, vehicle performance analysts and chassis developers – with an average wage increase of 30 per cent. We need more of this sort of new industrial partnership in the UK.

There are many of us working in this space. 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

This is a framework and tool for policy-orientation and practice aimed at future good work. 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.

We’re determined to create real, practical solutions, so we must move on from what we know to what we don’t know: where the new jobs are and how we can manage transition smoothly from old to new jobs across sectors and occupations. 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.

Naomi Climer CBE is co-chair of the Institute for the Future of Work. She is an engineer and leader who was the first female President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Previously, she was chair of the Government’s Future Communications Challenge Group and President of Sony’s Media Cloud Services.