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Innovative research for a positive vision of the future of work

Following the huge disruption caused by COVID-19, combined with the ongoing digital and green transitions and high levels of socioeconomic challenges lingering on from the last economic crisis of the late 2000s, the future of work, workers and workplaces is currently right in the political spotlight. This CORDIS Results Pack features 11 EU-funded projects that have undertaken innovative research to help chart a way forward for the workplaces of tomorrow.

Digital Economy

One of the main aspects of everyday life that COVID-19 completely turned upside down was the world of work. With billions of people across the world confined to their homes, offices have been mostly empty and the 9-to-5 commuting culture has been placed into deep freeze. However, it’s also important to remember that not everyone has had the luxury of working from home – those working in manual occupations, in factories, warehouses and retail for example, have not been able to work from home and have faced either unemployment, being placed on state furlough schemes or having to risk infection whilst undertaking their jobs to provide for themselves and their families.

A decade of challenges

As Europe emerges from the pandemic, it seems the world of work is fundamentally changing. But many of the underlying forces driving this change were underway even before the pandemic hit. The EU had already been grappling with issues of social inequality, a lack of high-skilled jobs, insecure employment, and economic decline in many European regions for over a decade. Much of this can be attributed to the long, drawn out economic hangover from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, subsequent euro crisis and austerity. Many EU countries have also struggled with stagnant or shrinking productivity and there are fears that increased automation will render ‘traditional’ manual occupations obsolete, resulting in widespread unemployment.

A positive vision of the future of work

However, there are grounds for optimism that Europe can seize the opportunities of the post-pandemic economic recovery that has already begun to gather pace. The EU is determined to be carbon-neutral by 2050 and for this, a radical overhaul of society and the economy will be undertaken through the European Green Deal. The EU complements this objective with its approach to Industry 5.0 targeting the transition to sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industries and potentially offering millions of skilled jobs in reformed or completely new sectors born from this transformation. To further help Europe in its post-pandemic recovery and to ensure citizens and workers are placed right at the top of the priority list, the European Commission has also recently launched its European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. This comprehensive strategy sets out 20 principles that aim to ensure a strong, social Europe that is fair, inclusive and full of opportunity by 2030. Some of the work-related principles include rights to quality education, training and lifelong learning, equal treatment and opportunities, flexible and adaptable employment, fair wages, a fair work-life balance, social dialogue between employees and employers, and social protection. EU leaders unanimously adopted the 2030 targets of the Social Rights Action Plan during a summit in Porto, Portugal on 8 May 2021.

The research to underpin the vision

As always, you first need the research and innovative solutions to enable the policies. This is where this Pack’s 11 projects come into play, all funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. These projects offer a treasure trove of ideas and comprehensive research to help spur the fair, inclusive and opportunities-filled vision the EU has for the future of work, with a heavy emphasis on education, lifelong learning and developing new skills, automation and digitisation, social dialogue, and workplace organisation. In particular, the BIGPROD and MICROPROD projects have honed their attention on research to shed light on how the EU can increase its overall economic productivity, whilst DOIT, NEMESIS and SIRIUS have looked at innovative solutions for enabling social innovation and entrepreneurial skills, with the latter specifically focused on migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Meanwhile, TECHNEQUALITY has closely examined how technological developments, such as automation, could have a long-term impact on employment and work. Finally, this Results Pack also introduces two newer projects, BEYOND4.0 and UPLIFT that still have some way to go before they end but are already offering valuable insights themselves into the ongoing transformation of the world of work.