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Minority report - or back to the future?

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What will be the next must-have smartphone?
Who will win the next British Bake Off?
Will it ever stop raining this winter?

Attempting to predict events a short distance into the future is difficult enough, but aside from our digital, entertainment and weather predicaments, what about answers to some of the crucial questions about the future of work, jobs and skills in the UK? What if we could predict the answers to these and other key questions on the future of work, up to 16 years into the future?

This was the aim behind our new study The Future of Work. Although it’s not possible to predict the future we can look at the direction of travel. Our researchers put away their crystal balls and instead used a combination of literature reviews, expert interviews and high-level workshop discussions to go ‘Back to the Future’. What we’ve ended up with is a huge body of work, but, distilled down, we have a full evidence report, a series of key trends and possible disruptions, and four potential scenarios for 2030. (Don't worry, there's also an executive summary.)

Some of the trends may be apparent in today's world: greater collaboration between companies, for example, or innovative new materials and techniques. But disruptions are by their nature unexpected and uncertain.

With a perfect prediction of the future, businesses would be able to plan ahead confidently, knowing what was in store for the UK economy. People could think through their career plans and look around for the best ways to educate themselves for the long term. And colleges could see which types of courses would be best for all of those businesses and people.

The bad news is we can't give perfect predictions. But we want our research to help guide some of those choices.

As for the scenarios, you could read a dystopian undertone to some of them. They variously describe rising inequalities, the automation of professional work, and dramatic changes to the way education is delivered and accessed. But, although these undoubtedly present challenges for some, with foresight they can also be read as opportunities.

But how can we future-proof our workplaces and our own career paths, when even this research talks about such a range of future scenarios? If people begin thinking about what the future could look like, they can begin to plan and prepare for this kind of uncertainty. We think this study provides a starting point for this kind of thinking. The research suggests that

employers need to continue to step up and take responsibility for skills development and the capability to manage talent across the globe – this could mean more collaboration within industries if there are issues that affect an entire sector

individuals must adapt to the less location-specific, more network-oriented and technology-intensive nature of work. Taking responsibility for their own skills development will be important, particularly as new ways of learning become more common

education and training providers should seek to collaborate closely with employers, and invest in new modes and content of provision in the face of changing funding regimes and pervasive technology.

How will your work change in the next twenty years? What do you see as the future of work? Let us know in the comments.



What will you be doing in 2030? Take the UKCES quiz to find out.
The full report on The Future of Work
You can find links to other UKCES insight and research here

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