Share this article
At MIT Solve, we’re tech optimists. But we know that left to their own devices, there is no guarantee that today’s technologies will evolve in ways that serve everyone. Building a society with equality—of opportunity and of outcomes—can’t be an afterthought. It requires deliberate planning and action for what we design and how we innovate. That’s what’s behind our Work of the Future Challenge.
We are seeking solutions that prepare current and future workforces for the transformations of work that lie ahead through improved economic security, career flexibility, or new income streams. We encourage anyone, anywhere to apply. Before you do, here are five things you should know.
- Why is it called “Work of the Future?”
- What kinds of solutions are you looking for?
The amount of initiatives, articles, and experts on this topic are commensurate with the anxiety around it. A comprehensive scoping of the “future of work” is hard to put together. As Liz Reynolds, Executive Director of MIT’s Work of the Future initiative, puts it, “We don’t say ‘future of work’ because there’s something so tentative about that formulation.”
“Future of Work” sounds like there’s a question mark trailing at its rear. The truth is, there will always be work. The question we’re grappling with is: how will that work make us feel? Will we continue to derive from it a sense of purpose, community, identity, and income? This is what’s at stake.
We’re looking for tech-powered, human-centric solutions. They can be from nonprofit or for-profit companies, or they can simply be pilot projects.
Here are a few more specific topics in need of solutions:
- Upskilling, Reskilling, and Job Matching: Our jobs are more likely to change than to disappear entirely. But they’re changing fast. Already, the need for computer-aided design (CAD) skills is replacing the need for coding skills. The process of timely skilling workers to respond to market demands, and matching them to jobs they’re capable of fulfilling, is an expensive exercise. It’s also a shared responsibility, and some entrepreneurs and companies are doing it! If you’re among them, apply.
- Data for Decision Making: Navigating the complex and rapidly changing landscape of the labor market is no small feat. We must understand which skills employers need, and which companies, industries, and geographies need workers. Tracking, analyzing, and communicating changes in an actionable and timely manner is the only way we can make progress.
- The No Collar Economy (or as someone with an acute fashion sense remarked during our Work of the Future workshop at Solve at MIT: the new collar economy): As we move from outsourcing to crowdsourcing, the gig economy makes up an ever-larger chunk of the global economy. But with flexibility and the glamorous #vanlife comes the stress of a lack of benefits and 401(k)s. What solutions exist to ensure gig workers are not uber worked and underpaid? If you’re working on portable benefits, new ownership structures, or a platform that supports any of the above, we want to hear from you.
- Human + Machine: We can design AI and robots to replace us or we can design them to augment our potential. As someone quipped during our Work of the Future workshop, “We’re more likely to be hurt by a poorly designed robot than by an evil one.” How do we invent machines that work WITH humans, not without them? How do we outsource the right tasks to our machine friends, and keep people at the center of work? We can choose to invent tech that liberates us from rote tasks, increases our productivity, and leaves us time to explore our creativity.
- New Industries & Ethical Supply Chains: We have faith that entire industries and job families will emerge in this fourth industrial revolution. But how do we ensure that those with less voice are included in designing the economy of the future? Existing industries can do better, too; ethical sourcing is a thing, and new technologies can help make it easier for both the producer and the consumer to make better choices. For example, check out Solve member Falcon Coffee who is exploring how blockchain can help improve the traceability of coffee beans. Are you solving one of these topics? We want to hear from you.
Teams selected to be part of our Solver class will gain access to everyone in our curated community -- from other Solver teams, to Solve staff, to MIT faculty, to leaders from the tech industry, business, philanthropy, government, and civil society.
We work with each Solver to understand their needs and help match them with leaders who seek partnerships to support or implement innovative, scalable ideas. This year, Work of the Future Solver teams are eligible for prize funding from General Motors, the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, and Solve.
Solver teams receive exclusive access to Solve's year-round events including Solve at MIT, panel discussions, ideation and design thinking workshops, and more. Solve also facilitates exposure on other international stages and with our press partners. Previous Solver teams have received up to $2 million in funding as well as mentorship, technical support, media and conference placements, and one-on-one introductions to investors.
A researcher conducts tests in a laboratory. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)