Dean's Blog: The Future of Work

May 30, 2019 - Dean Rachel Croson



Predictions show that over the next decade, nearly one-half of work tasks currently done by humans will be replaced with technology.  As a result, by 2030 nearly one out of three people in the U.S. workforce will be forced to learn new skills and find work in new occupations and industries. Persistent and dramatic advancements in technology, spurred by breakthroughs and innovative applications in artificial intelligence, digitalization, automation, robotics and Internet cloud communications, are transforming the world of work. From assembly-line automation seen over the past decade, to accounting and tax preparation programs that are rolling out now, to predicted programs to provide medical measurements and diagnoses, these advances will both make existing jobs obsolete and create new jobs in their place.

Organizations (both private and public) will need to choose how to react to these changes. This might involve shedding workers and hiring new, better skilled employees or upskilling their existing workforces through large investments in training and work reorganization.  MSU faculty’s research provides important insights to inform and support these decisions.

For example, research from MSU School of Human Resources and Labor Relations (SHRLR) Professor Dr. Dale Belman identifies how advances in adult education methods, learning technologies and labor-management cooperation are shaping the future of work in trade labor. Dr. Belman and co-author find that as technological advances replace lesser skilled jobs with jobs requiring greater knowledge of digital construction systems, registered apprenticeship training has become ever more important to meeting the skill needs of the industry (Belman, D., Ormiston, R., 2019).

At the individual level, workers will need to upgrade their skills, continually investing in their own education throughout their work lives. Technology has already had a transformative impact on women in the workplace. SHRLR’s Dr. Amanda Chuan’s recent working paper, “Non-College Occupations and the Gender Gap in College Enrollment,” shows that workplace adoption of automated processes decreased job opportunities for women without college degrees. She finds that this automation has motivated more women to enroll in college over the past few decades, seeking to increase their skills to meet the needs of the changing workplace (Chuan, A., 2019).

How organizations and individuals adapt to these changes will also be influenced by our society’s institutions, including unions, social interest groups, governments, and others. A study conducted by SHRLR’s Dr. Christian Ibsen, together with professors from MIT, demonstrates that the involvement of employers and trade unions during times of transition is essential for helping employees adapt. His research documents that both employers and trade unions have practical knowledge about what the labor market demands in times of technological change, and that countries that involve both employers and trade unions will be more successful in minimizing the potentially disruptive employment effects of technological change (Ibsen, 2019).

But technology isn’t only a disruptive force; it can also be harnessed to enhance the effectiveness of work and workers. For example, Drs. Angela Hall (HRLR), Steve Kozlowski (I/O Psychology) and faculty in electrical and computer engineering are investigating how technology can enhance teamwork in the workplace via cyber-human interactions.  Their work in progress explores how sensory feedback from wearable electronics can enhance small group social awareness and behaviors that improve personal interactions, morale and performance of diverse work teams.  Drs. Jason Huang (HRLR), Chris Nye (I/O Psychology) and Nihar Mahapatra from electrical and computer engineering explore how applied artificial intelligence and robotics can be integrated into how workers perform their tasks. One of their projects in progress examines how proceduralized tasks can be augmented by artificial intelligence, which can monitor performance and prompt workers to take appropriate action. More generally, human-technology partnership systems have the potential to transform the current approaches to selecting, monitoring and training workers.

These researchers and others at MSU have formed an interdisciplinary consortium to help us understand and predict the Future of Work.  Under the leadership of the School of Human Resources & Labor Relations, faculty are collaborating with those in Psychology, Sociology, Computer Science, Engineering, Business and Communications. These collaborations involve actively partnering with alumni who are top human resource executives, to meet the goal of advancing research in order to help our society adapt to this sea change in work.

The College of Social Science is transforming the human experience by investigating and helping our society prepare for the future of work.


Sincerely yours,

Dean Rachel T.A. Croson 


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