The Future of Work

How can we shape the future of work together? This thematic reader provides substantial food for thought on the issue. Björn Böhning, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, outlines the key areas of action at national and EU level and provides a brief overview of the subsequent companion contributions.


The world of work is subject to profound and sometimes rapid change. Digitalisation is a crucial and decisive driver. This entails both risks and opportunities.

Some of the changes are just beginning to emerge; others have long arrived in companies and are firmly established. So, what will work look like in the future? On this, we would like to engage in a dialogue with you, our European partners, and use Germany’s EU Council Presidency to agree on common needs for action.

For this thematic reader, we recruited national, European and international experts from policy-making and practice, academia and social partnerships to provide interesting insights into the future of work. We will not run out of work in the future. But in many cases, it will be a different kind of work which requires different skills and qualifications and goes hand in hand with in­creasing flexibilisation in the world of work. Thus, it is no longer a question of whether digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI) will change our world of work, but of how. We want to shape that change to ensure that technological progress also turns into social progress.

Shaping digitalisation and the digital world of work Europe-wide

The digital world of work is a core issue also for the new EU Commission. Europe has the power to shape the digital transformation. This is not just about fair digital taxation of Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook, but also about the effects of digitalisation and artificial intelligence on the European labour market.

The impact of digital technologies on business practices in Europe is increasing. This is why purely national solutions make little sense. Against this backdrop, we are putting “the future of work” on the EU agenda for the duration of Germany’s EU Council Presidency. From a labour policy perspective, we will be focusing on the core topics of AI, platform economy and continuing education and training – all of them being inextricably linked. With the digital transformation, an increasing number of new, “smart” tools and systems will be used – largely driven by advancements in AI. This has a lasting impact on the way we work. It enables new business models such as digital platforms that use new ways of organising work for the services of self-employed people on a scale previously unknown. Through digitalisation and the increasing use of AI, job descriptions and profiles are changing. Demand for new skills is on the rise. Continuing vocational education and training will thus become the key to securing jobs and addressing the lack of skilled labour.

Promoting trustworthy artificial intelligence and the use of its potential

The use of AI brings change to our private and professional worlds. We want to shape how AI is used responsibly in the workplace and in society. Useful insights into the opportunities and risks involved in workplace use of AI are offered in the contributions from AI experts Shirley Ogolla and Prof. Dr Hendrik Send, who conduct research on this subject at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) (go to the article). From Prof. Dr Katharina Zweig, Professor of Computer Sciences at TU Kaiserslautern, we learn about the classification of AI systems and their diverse practical uses in the world of work (go to the article). From a labour policy perspective, we also need to discuss how best to design an EU regulatory framework for AI. Our goal is for people to benefit from machines – not the other way around.

In February 2020, the EU Commission published proposals for safe and res­ponsible use of AI. With its White Paper, the Commission has taken a first step in the right direction. We need clear rules on what AI may and may not do, and we must ensure that those rules are enforced. We can only achieve our goals if people have the necessary level of trust in this technology. It is only right and fair that the requirements regarding security and control of AI-based products are the same as for any other product in use.

At BMAS, we have a responsibility to take the lead in shaping these processes and will assess the extent to which we need to amend the Machinery Directive in regard to the safety and reliability requirements for AI-driven systems. Here, our guiding principle must be to promote trustworthy AI and to fully use the potential of AI.

For me, taking an EU approach to developing and using AI means creating incentives in a way that ensures AI will improve people’s lives. New AI regulation should not result in questioning existing protection standards in the world of work. The General Data Protection Regulation has shown that the EU can set global standards. We should do the same for AI.

Regulating quality jobs in a strong platform economy

Platform economy is increasingly becoming the topic of policy-debate. Platform work is steadily becoming a feature of everyday life with food delivery services, ride-hailing services, household-related services, and also in the form of online work such as editing, coding and creative work. At national, EU and interna­tional level, an intensive political debate is currently underway in which platform economy is cited as a prime example of new forms of work. It is generally expected that platform work will increase as digitalisation progresses and that this increase may well be rapid.

The contributions from platform operators and crowdworkers in this reader (go to the article) describe how they experience platform work and how they see the potential, the challenges and the future of the industry.

Digital platforms offer low-threshold access to work for those who either cannot or prefer not to work fixed hours at a fixed location. We want to enable businesses to use the potential within platform economy and develop new business models. We want to see “European Champions” in platform economy. This, of course, means ensuring good working conditions and social insurance coverage.

With their contribution, titled “Social protection of workers in platform econ­omy: a cross-country comparison of good practices” (go to the article), authors Dr Christoph Freudenberg and Dr Wolfgang Schulz-Weidner present innovative regulatory approaches from countries aiming to improve the social protection of platform workers, not just through legal mechanisms but also in practice, as well as combating social security fraud.

„In order to foster good work in a strong platform economy, we need strong […] rules and regulations in order for digital work not becoming synonymous with digital exploitation.“

In order to foster good work in a strong platform economy, we need strong and – to some extent – new rules and regulations in order for digital work not becoming synonymous with digital exploitation. This boils down to the question of how we can place greater responsibility on platform operators who work with (solo) self-employed persons. As the contribution from Dr Monica Queisser (go to the article) shows: the self-employed are a key topic in labour-policy design in the age of platform work. Their new forms of work bring the gaps in social security coverage for self-employed persons to the forefront of international political debate.

Many online labour platforms operate across borders, especially concerning off-site online work. This raises questions in regard to the applicable legal framework and how platform workers can exercise their rights, including in court if needed. There are also specific questions around platforms’ business models, including questions on transparency or data portability – especially in the event of a platform worker wishing to switch from one platform to another.

This is why we are in favour of EU-level regulation. We want to use Germany’s EU Council presidency to actively promote this.

Towards a European skills strategy

Continuing education and training – especially for employees – is the key response to both digital and demographic structural change. We want to continue the EU dialogue on continuing education and training and skills that was started during Croatia’s Council Presidency.

Continuing education and training is not just a matter of securing jobs: the contribution from Dr Thomas Kruppe from the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) highlights the inter­de­pendence between individual continuing education and training and wage trends (go to the article).

„Continuing education and training is the key response to both digital and demographic structural change.“

At national level, we launched the National Skills Strategy (go to the article) in June 2019. To place that strategy on as broad a footing as possible, representatives from the Federal Employment Agency, the German federal states (Länder), business and industry, as well as the social partners were closely involved in its development. The experience with and expectations of that common strategy are outlined in the contributions submitted by social partner representatives Sabrina KlausSchelleter from the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and Dr Irene Seling and Dr Jupp Zenzen from the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) (go to the article).

At European level, we seek dialogue on the respective national continuing education and training systems and policies in place in the Member States. Some Member States have adopted innovative approaches from which we can all learn. For example, Austria introduced its policy on training leave in 1998 and has since developed and enhanced it further – illustrated by Julia BockSchappelwein, Dr Ulrike Famira-Mühlberger and Ulrike Huemer (go to the article).

In the European debate, we need to investigate European solutions in the continuing education and training sector to both maintain and improve the employability of people in Europe, and how self-determined employment histories can be created in times of digital transformation.

The contribution from Roman Lutz and Regine Geraedts describes the common positioning of the Saarland Chamber of Labour, the Bremen Chamber of Employees, Luxemburg’s Chambre des salariés and the Austrian Chambers of Labour, who are all in favour of a European skills strategy (go to the article). In addition to greater efforts concerning continuing education and training, they also call for reliable and robust enabling conditions along with statutory regulations.

In an interview with OECD economist Dr Mariagrazia Squicciarini, we discussed the gender-specific aspects of continuing education and training, and especially the digital gender divide. In the interview, she explains how best to address gender differences in abilities and skills (go to the article).

Multifaceted debate on the future of work

Last but not least, we spoke to Dr Johannes Kopf, Chair of the European Network of Public Employment Services (PES), about the (digitalisation-driven) changes in job placement and counselling services, and the challenges that come with the new digital world of work (go to the article).

In addition to the digital transformation, which is the focus of this thematic reader, megatrends such as climate change are also transforming the world of work. Thus, in their contribution, Dr Frank Siebern-Thomas, Endre Gyorgy and Katarina Jaksic from the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (EMPL) of the European Commission outline the labour market policy impact of climate-driven structural change (go to the article).

The contributions in this thematic reader are designed to provide a multi­faceted picture which we can draw upon when discussing the question: “How can we work together to shape the work of the future and the future of work?”

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