“Which government-initiated, ‘future-of-work’ innovations have had the biggest impact?”
Nicholas J. Matiasz Senior Project Manager City of Los Angeles
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Yasar Jarrar Advisor Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation
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The topic is fairly new (has taken center stage in recent discussions and conferences only 3-4 years ago) and many reports have come out in the last few years describing this "future". Most of these are speculations about a future dominated by machines (more prominent ones came from the World Economic Forum, McKinsey Global Institute, etc.). However, in terms of policy reactions, not many countries have seen this future yet. Peter Thiel summarized this "future" by saying: we wanted flying cars, but what we actually got was 140 characters. ... in essence, the future of work today is hot material for consultants, think tanks, forums, but public policy and wide-scale government initiatives have not caught up, possibly because they are yet to witness the full scale of this future.

Many countries, especially those with industrial manufacturing, have been witnessing the erosion of jobs (driven by technology) over the past decade or more. This has led to de-industrialization in many countries like the USA (and early de-industrialization in other like South Korea) - this loss of jobs hit the middle classes hard, and led to many of the political and social changes we see today (like the rise of nationalism). Again, this was a slow, technology-led change in the nature of work. This was not a sudden and shocking future of work scenario.

With this context in mind, it is true that there are major threats to manual and repetitive jobs these days, and many will disappear soon. There is also a change in the nature of work, and how (and where) we perform it.

Governments have been thinking about these changes and some of the initial reactions have been on one (or more) of the following 3 levels. (Note that these policy interventions / programs are fairly new and did not have concrete outcomes, so we can't assess their success. All we can reflect on are the plans and blueprints put forward.)

  1. Skills: Some Governments, like Singapore and Dubai, have started major skills-training (re-training) initiatives. The Singapore FutureSkills Fund is a great example - the main aim is to drive life-long learning for whole population. While all governments agree that this is key, no one has figured out a sustainable model to fund life-long learning (let alone decide who should take responsibility for it).
  2. Income: Future of work will cause major job losses (at least for traditional jobs) and while many new jobs are being created, not everyone will be able to re-train and re-skill to take on the new world of work. Income policies have been discussed in many governments (beyond unemployment benefits) and many are now piloting forms of Universal Basic Income (UBI). A great argument to get into UBI is the Book "give people money" by Annie Lowery.
  3. Regulating future industries: This is probably the area that got the most policy attention. Many governments now are trying to regulate the new forms of work (e.g. short term gigs, long term temporary workers, etc.). There are many questions about the rights, pay, pensions (or lack of), healthcare benefits... all these issues now need to be addressed for a new "forms" of work that are rising very quickly (the Gig Economy etc). Some of the most interesting policy discussions can be found in places like Australia, but not one has a full answer. In countries like the UAE, they are about to start a regulation-lab (Reg-Lab) basically to offer experimental licences to these new forms of work and companies, then spend some time (12-24 months) collecting data on economic and social implications, then decide what policy to craft. This is in response to the challenge that all governments are facing - it is a new world, and we are running towards it, with top speed (driven by consumers and companies) and governments are simply trying to find ways to catch up.

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