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13 Mar

Faculty Initiative: The Future of Work

March 13, 2018

The project examines the shifting nature of work and how education and professional development programs need to change in an era marked by disruptive technologies.

The nature of work and the dynamics of the labour market are changing at a rate unsurpassed since the Industrial Revolution. The last few decades have brought about unprecedented change in nearly every aspect of work: the nature of the work itself, the skills required, and the trajectory of an individual’s lifelong career path, to name just a few. While significant effort has been made to understand how these changes impact the productivity outputs of the economy, much less research exists regarding how these changes impact workers and their families, or how governments and educational institutions need to adapt to support the new nature of work.

The goal of this project on the Future of Work is to bring together academic researchers and stakeholders from different organizations (e.g., school boards, financial institutions, private sector, universities) to do empirical research on how education and professional development programs need to change in an era marked by disruptive technologies. Researchers and members of other organizations who are affiliated with the project are particularly interested in analyzing these questions from a human capital development perspective, focusing on the implications for education and training over the life course as well as supportive policies and programs.

The pace of change and scale of change facing labour markets makes it imperative to anticipate and prepare for the shifts that will occur. Yet, strong empirical research on the social implications of these changes is badly needed. With this in mind, this partnership is being initiated by three well-established researchers from the University of Toronto who encompass a wide breath of social science disciplines: Dr. Elizabeth Dhuey, a labour economist who studies human capital acquisition; Dr. Michal Perlman, a developmental psychologist who studies educational settings and outcomes for children as well as environmental influences on family functioning; and Dr. Linda White, a professor of political science who studies education and family policies and labour market supportive institutions.

One challenge of doing research in this area is that these trends are so new that we can only turn to very recent data, and even then, most likely in targeted areas that have been impacted earlier, in an effort to study the effects of social and policy implications of automation. That is, we may need to identify specific regions or sectors that have been impacted already as a starting point. Despite an explosion of coverage of this subject in the media, there is little empirical work that directly explores these issues. Instead, much of the media coverage draws on “crystal ball gazing” which is hard to make sense of given the range of predictions being discussed. Thus, we propose to begin to fill this gap by conducting empirical research on this topic through targeted partnerships with institutions that have relevant current data and/or a willingness to facilitate additional data collection to augment what they already have.