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Work & Society 2040

An expedition to the future of work and society

In setting a focus area dealing with what work and society might be like in 2040, the Policy Lab is beginning a process of systematic strategic foresight. The aim here is to identify new areas of action for BMAS in good time and develop new approaches to solutions for the future of work and society.

Over the past few years, we have experienced how quickly and profoundly societal change can take place. In the face of this transformation, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) raised a number of questions five years ago under the heading of “Work 4.0”. It discussed these topics related to the future of work in a broad-based dialogue with experts from associations, social partners, companies, and the scientific community, as well as with members of civil society. The results of this two-year process were presented in its “White Paper Work 4.0” in 2017. Several of the white paper’s recommendations became established in the coalition agreement, and many projects have been implemented already or are currently being implemented.

An important finding of the dialogue process was that the initiated research into the future and the intensive dialogue on the future of the working world have to be systematically continued and consolidated. At BMAS, the Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society was set up to look into these questions in a systematic manner. With the aid of strategic foresight, one of its key tasks is, attempting to see what the future might hold for work and society. Thus, developments that are already emerging today and which could affect society, the economy, and every individual in ten or 20 years’ time might be anticipated. This is how the Policy Lab contributes to, updates, and adds new aspects to the sphere of discourse that was launched in the “Work 4.0” dialogue process.

Minister Hubertus Heil

»The impact of the pandemic, striving for resilience, the desire for cohesion in times of polarisation and populism, climate change, the new geopolitical (dis)order, and the struggle for technological sovereignty – all these factors lead to the question of the future of value creation and employment being raised once again. In order to realign our view of work and society in the digital context in the year 2040, we are now launching a project aimed at developing future scenarios from today’s perspective on the basis of strategic foresight methodology.«

Minister Hubertus Heil

Establishing new areas of action

The aim of strategic foresight is to identify new areas of action that will arise for BMAS early on in the societal context and in doing so develop new approaches to solutions for the future of work and society. BMAS views its commitment as one dedicated to shaping future developments preventively rather than simply trying to find a “cure” afterwards.

The impact of the pandemic, the striving for resilience, the desire for cohesion in times of polarisation and populism, climate change becoming tangible in real terms, the new geopolitical (dis)order, and the struggle for technological sovereignty – all these lead to the question of the future of value creation and employment being raised in ways different to those five years ago.

What groundwork has to be laid?

We know one thing with certainty: the working world of the future will look different to the one that exists today. Will we work with more self-determination and in a way that is healthier and will we perhaps work less? Will we at the age of 50 go on to study again or learn a new profession? How are technical and social innovations changing society and the working world? What productivity gains are possible and how are they distributed? What form could a self-determined and socially just society carried by work take in the future? What connections and interactions between people and technology will characterise society and work in the future? Will we succeed in shaping work and society in line with our expectations and set corresponding rules? Will we successfully leverage technical and economic progress to create a new form of self-empowerment? What groundwork has to be laid to make this future one that is worthy to live in, is fair and inclusive, is one where solidarity is valued, and one that is (more) free? There will hardly be easy answers to these many questions. This is why the Policy Lab of BMAS is embarking on an expedition to work and society in the digital context in 2040.

The process: mapping possible futures

The first part of the journey is to develop scenarios that explore a wide range of desirable, possible, or even alarming futures for work and society. In the course of this – on the basis of recognised scientific methods – specialist discourse will be evaluated, experts consulted, and the various emerging societal and economic interests taken into account. What are the expectations, wishes, and hopes surrounding work and society in the digital context in the 2040? What interests can be identified and what are the fears? To find this out, experts, members of civil society, representatives of institutions and organisations, and policymakers will be integrated into scenario development process.

In this way, expert future assessments can be combined with societal impulses to consolidate the various expectations and evaluations and map the results to exploratory scenarios. The themes and questions contained in the scenarios will form the basis for addressing the topic of the future of work and society in the digital context further and in greater depth.

Published on 01 Dec 2020 on the topic: Work & Society 2040

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