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Research and innovation

The future of work

What this policy is, strategy, funded projects, latest news.

What is the future of work?

The future of work, workers and workplaces is at the focal point of public and policy interest. The world of work is changing fast and we want to make the most of economic opportunities while mitigating social risks.

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have put a renewed focus on the core question: What will be the future of work, workers and workplaces?

There are many different aspects to the future of work:

  • quality of jobs and employment
  • social protection and next-generation manufacturing
  • the intersection of health and employment, as well as the platform economy
  • inclusive workplaces
  • reskilling and upskilling
  • human-machine collaboration

What the EU is doing and the role of research and innovation

A strong, fair, economy that works for people, providing both prosperity and social protection, is one of the top priorities of the European Commission.

The future of work is reflected in the updated European Industrial Strategy which paves the way for transforming industry to build a green, digital and resilient economy for which research and innovation are key enablers. It also plays a pivotal role in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.

The Council of the European Union has identified the future of work as a field of action for the European Research Area (ERA).

The ERA Policy Agenda  for 2022-2024 includes ERA4FutureWork (ERA action 11.3) a research and innovation policy action which will bring together Commission services (DG Research and Innovation and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), EU countries and key stakeholders in order to exchange best practices and research questions to be addressed by a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda for the future of work.

The Industry 5.0 initiative recognises the power of industry to achieve societal goals beyond jobs and growth to become a resilient provider of prosperity, by making production respect the boundaries of our planet and placing the wellbeing of the industrial worker at the centre of the production process.

A session in the European Research and Innovation Days on 24 June 2021 focused on how research and innovation can influence the future of work and support the existing strategies of the Commission.The conclusions of this session provide input for research and innovation policy in this area with regard to Horizon Europe, the current research and innovation programme. Many topics relevant to the future of work have already been included in the Horizon Europe work programmes for 2021-2022 and 2023-24.

The Commission has carried out an extensive screening of EU-funded research and innovation projects and has highlighted 212 Horizon 2020 projects and 38 Horizon Europe projects related to the future of work.

The total investment to these projects (measured as a sum of the total EU contribution for each action) is expected to reach close to €435 million. This selection, accompanied by more information on the methodology and classification of selected projects, can be found in our policy brief “Towards an EU research and innovation agenda for the future of work”.

Why is it important?

The current state of the world of work is being challenged in many ways.

New disruptive technologies, automation and algorithmic management, societal challenges such as rising inequality or new digital business models that threaten traditional welfare mechanisms (such as the platform economy), pose questions to which Europe needs to find innovative answers.

Only through research and innovation will we be able to steer these developments, making sure they support rather than undermine a human-centric future of work.

Labour market developments, technological challenges and the consequences of consecutive economic, health-related and political crises also require a novel approach to employment and growth.

At the same time, the twin digital and green transitions can lead us to greater productivity and increased empowerment of workers, as well as the ambitious goals set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.

Funded projects

The EU has supported over 200 research and innovation projects providing a total of almost €250 million through its Horizon 2020 research framework programme.

Under the Industrial Leadership section of the programme, projects have focused on the development of solutions and concepts for factory automation, strategies to secure and increase Europe’s industrial competitiveness and approaches to maximising collaboration between robotic and human workers: HUMAN, INCLUSIVE, MANUWORK, A4BLUE and Factory2Fit

Projects in the field of social sciences and humanities contributed by

  • qualitatively and quantitatively exploring the dynamics of inequality: TECHNEQUALITY, UNTANGLED, UPLIFT
  • identifying policy options for an inclusive industrial transformation: BEYOND4.0
  • designing policy contributions for improving labour market outcomes for disadvantaged groups: WorkYP, EXCEPT, NEGOTIATE.

Several projects have contributed with research, analysis and solutions to improve the working conditions for workers in the platform economy. A selection of projects can be found in the factsheet for EU-funded research on platform work.

Special attention was given to the development and impact of lifelong learning strategies and programmes: ENLIVEN, EduMAP, YOUNG_ADULLLT.

Investigating the effect and potential of digital technologies for youth was another focal point: DOIT, DigiGen.

Systematic solutions to mental health issues in the workplaces of the future were examined by projects such as EMPOWER, MINDUP, MindBot.

Recommendations concerning pandemic management and its impact on the economy were tackled by the RESPOND and SHARE-COVID19 projects.

Integrating the policy recommendations of these projects, making use of the frameworks they have developed and deepening their results in future Horizon Europe actions will be key to further strengthen their impact on the European approach to the future of work.