Whole sectors of industry are set to be transformed by global trends such as automation and climate change, alongside the UK’s continuing shift towards a knowledge economy. How can we reap the benefits of these changes whilst ensuring workers are able to acclimatise to an uncertain economic future? The transformations wrought by digital technologies mirror those of the industrial revolution. These eventually resulted in improvements in the material standard of living of many people but only after years of dislocation and disruption, with hard fought battles for worker rights.

Climate change, too, will require wholesale reconfiguration of many sectors such as transport and heating which will reshape associated jobs. Brexit is already causing labour shortages in some sectors, meaning the UK will either need to direct sustained investment into nurturing domestic talent or actively attracting workers to immigrate from elsewhere.

The scale of these transformations have sparked calls for a fundamental re-think of our systems of education, training and career development. It has become something of a cliche to observe that schooling has yet to evolve far from the model used to train factory workers and clerks for the industrial age.Meanwhile, the provision for learning in later life - which will be critical in helping people transition between roles - has rarely featured as a top-tier political priority in the same way as education.

Workplaces increasingly governed by AI will open up new fronts in the struggle for employee rights. Decisions such as hiring, line management and dismissal are now being made by AI in a way which could not have been anticipated by those drafting labour laws. Already, a survey of workers for the Trades Union Congress has found that 22 per cent had experience of these technologies being used for absence management, 15 per cent for performance ratings and 14 per cent for work allocation.

According to Frances O’Grady, nothing short of a new Charter of Rights will be sufficient to protect employees who find themselves working for an algorithm. The question of funding career reinventions and retraining is addressed in Sonia Sodha’s radical proposal for a drawdown fund that workers can tap into at any point over their lifetime. Modelled on the Office for Budget Responsibility, Margaret Heffernan pitches a new independent future skills body charged with ensuring the UK is sufficiently agile in the face of a deeply unpredictable labour market.

The knowledge was published as part of Minister for the Future, bold new thinking on the long-term issues policymakers can't afford to ignore, in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris.

If AI is the boss, workers are going to need a new charter of rights

Read more

A reinvention fund for (truly) lifelong learning

Read more

It's time to counter political short-termism with an ‘OBR’ for future skills

Read more