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The futures of work

Important ongoing changes in the way work is structured, distributed, and carried out have the potential to make some workers more vulnerable, while providing other workers with opportunities to improve their circumstances. While these changes may be most evident today in higher-income countries, they will alter the path to secure livelihoods for workers globally. Chapter 1. Flexible Work, Freelance Workers looks at the ongoing drive for workforce flexibility and the emergence of the “freelance economy.” Chapter 2. Automated Work considers the impact of software and robotics, which have the potential to eliminate some jobs, complement human workers in other jobs, and create entirely new jobs—thus generating a great deal of displacement and turmoil in global employment. Over the next two decades, negative consequences of automation are likely to fall hardest on the poor and vulnerable. In lower-income countries a large number of workers—often the majority—are employed in informal agricultural work. Many suffer from chronically insecure livelihoods. For decades, many mainstream economists argued that the most viable pathway to a secure livelihood for agricultural workers has been to shift to an industrial job, usually while relocating to an urban center. But going forward, a confluence of large forces—work restructuring, workplace automation, and driving forces such as globalization, urbanization, economic inequality, and a glut of available workers—is reshaping the pathways to secure livelihoods in lower-income nations, in ways that are not yet fully recognized—or even fully possible to envision. These forces will produce disruption and both risks and opportunities for the poor and vulnerable. Chapter 3. Emerging Work looks at how these forces will change two important aspects of secure livelihoods in lower-income countries: rural work and manufacturing work. Finally, economists and others have begun to consider whether new economic approaches may better balance growth and economic inclusiveness, with positive impacts for the world of work. Chapter 4. Transforming Work considers how structural changes, from restructuring jobs to income guarantees, could transform the world of work. And Chapter 5. Report Conclusions revisits the big story of the future of work, identifying big ideas and key implications, reviewing the unique perspective offered by foresight best practices, and offering suggestions for next steps to explore this crucial topic.