Throughout history, workers, employers, and government policymakers alike have tended to react slowly to the march of major technological advances that initially disrupted – but then ultimately expanded – workplace opportunities.

What is different today is that we have the ability to better prepare for the future of work, to understand the challenges and opportunities facing our workers and to develop new policies and solutions that can effectively bridge these transitions in more prosperous ways than we have in the past.

To help foster this important discussion about the future of work, Intuit has partnered with Reinvent, an organization that specializes in engaging the world’s top innovators in order to solve today’s greatest challenges.

This future of work series is a continuing engagement with business leaders, entrepreneurs, and policy experts who share their individual perspectives on what they believe needs to be done today to ensure that independent workers thrive in the years ahead. It can be accessed at reinvent.net/series/the-future-of-work/.

Over the last century, both policymakers and workers responded to disruptions in the workplace by calling for child labor laws, minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, as well as mandatory workers’ compensation and disability benefits programs. Eventually, many employers also began to invest more in their workers, adding health and pension benefits that largely reversed a period of workforce exploitation. But truth be told, all of the essential protections and reforms that did come about came reactively and, in many cases, not until American workers had endured a considerable amount of hardship.

Understanding the Future of Work Today

 

Today, by all accounts, we are starting to witness another seismic shift in the way work gets done – with historical parallels in terms of expansive new opportunities, as well as well-placed concerns for the welfare of our workforce.

To be clear, we recognize that the shift to a more independent workforce is just one piece of the puzzle and that other factors such as globalization and automation present additional challenges and opportunities for the future of work.

Essential Steps for the Future of Work

For our part, we’ve chosen to contribute from the knowledge and insights we have gained from working with millions of self-employed and contract workers – which comprise 36 percent of our workforce today – and are expected to reach 43 percent by 2020.

Preparing for the future of work in America is a big task, but we can start with some essential steps:

New, forward-looking labor policies.

Historically, we’ve collected and reported labor statistics on where employment has been, not where it will be. We need to be more forward-looking in ways that can inform and benefit current and future workers. Unlike the generations that have come before us, we can now predict marketplace disruptions before they occur and use that information to develop training and transition programs for affected workers.

Life-long learning.

Historically, most people only practiced a single trade or pursued a single career yet all of the current analysis about employment today indicates that the future of work will look very different, and require most workers to transition across multiple career paths. Simply put, having life-long employment opportunities will require life-long learning.

Pairing new work with new workers.

For as long as we have collected labor market statistics, we have known that large gaps in employment can occur even in a strong economy, simply because the search for work, as well as the search for employees, can be extremely inefficient. But what if we harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to help eliminate this labor market inefficiency by deploying these technologies to provide a perfect match of workers to the employment opportunities in real time?

Reinventing workplace benefits.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the future of work is not the issue of work at all, but the issue of worker benefits once obtained through the workplace. Increasingly, both self-employed workers, as well as those still engaged in traditional employment, find themselves without health insurance, protection against unemployment and disability, and lacking a plan or funding for their retirements. Few believe this situation is sustainable and with no clear answers or solutions in sight, we believe the time has come to elevate this issue to the top of our national agenda.

As noted at the outset, the history of work in this country has been such that every substantial disruption has ultimately yielded new opportunity and greater prosperity. And we believe the future of work will be no different.

What can and must be different today, however, is our willingness to embrace these challenges now, so that we make the most of our opportunities in the future.