SFE Funds New Research on the Evolving Nature of Work

Posted on Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

With a new wave of investments, as part of Siegel Family Endowment (SFE)’s growing emphasis on research, we’re exploring what the future world of work looks like to uncover how we can help shape a tech-powered economy that benefits everyone. 

SFE has awarded four grants to fund research projects at the MIT Work of the Future initiative; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Portland State University; the Center for American Progress; and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. With these research projects, SFE is working towards our broader mission to “understand and shape the impact of technology on society” and will help inform how our society can work towards an equitable, inclusive future of work where technology complements the work of humans. 

Even before the pandemic, conversation centered around how new technologies and business models would shape the future of work. The onset of Covid-19 only catapulted these trends forward. In a June 2020 survey, McKinsey found that 67% of companies accelerated their use of automation and artificial intelligence during the pandemic. In another survey, 1 in 5 people, including nearly 1 in 3 people under the age of 40, “seriously considered” changing their occupation or field of work since the start of the pandemic. It’s clear that now more than ever, we need actionable information on how technology impacts work and workers in order to enhance our collective understanding of what should come next. 

Read on to learn more about the new research efforts we’re supporting:

  • MIT Work of the Future initiative: To better understand how technology can be used as a tool to complement human abilities, rather than simply replace workers, we’ve awarded a grant to the MIT Work of the Future initiative. SFE’s Chairman David Siegel served on the Work of the Future Taskforce, which provided extensive analysis of the work of the future as well as policy recommendations to help shape a better future. This grant continues the taskforce’s work with new research that will delve into how our labor market can evolve to match the pace of technology. Through this funding, SFE will support a growing understanding on how to advance and future-proof our workforce and institutions. The Work of the Future Initiative’s approach to modernizing antiquated characteristics of the labor market through innovation exemplifies the kind of research that will drive our collective thinking forward.
  • Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program and high-quality work: With certain sectors more impacted than others by the integration of emerging technologies, SFE’s research grant to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Portland State University will support manufacturing sector-specific research. The project is focused on how Manufacturing Extension Partnership Programs (MEPs) can help mitigate automation-related job loss. The federally-funded national network of MEPs help small- and medium-sized manufacturers introduce organizational and technological changes to enhance overall business performance. By moving beyond traditional workforce training, MEPs have the potential to promote high-quality jobs, career mobility, and racial equity standards. Their research will also help inform how businesses and their partners in other sectors can best integrate new technologies and best support their workforce. By probing how the manufacturing sector can involve frontline workers in the technology design and deployment process, SFE is honoring its commitment to ensuring every voice, especially those that are traditionally overlooked, are part of conversations about the future. 
  • Equity and Inclusivity: SFE will also continue our support to the Center for American Progress and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Both organizations have tackled outdated and unfair labor market systems by leveraging research to inform policymakers. This grant will give legislators a range of new options to create more equitable outcomes and greater opportunities for all. The Center for American Progress, for example, has put forward recommendations on how the Covid-19 relief bill could support workers impacted by the pandemic. In parallel, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth has worked to highlight how local labor markets with only a few large employers can lead to weakened bargaining power for workers and suppressed wages. Importantly, the work of both organizations recognize where labor policies intersect with and impact the broader set of tax, budget, and social policies. The multifaceted research from both organizations will continue to influence efforts to introduce more equity and inclusivity to the future of work.

SFE is thrilled to partner with these research efforts and collaborate to help uncover innovative solutions for systemic challenges related to work. In the coming year, we will continue to invest in research around critical questions of how to navigate the future of work – especially now that the future has very quickly become our present reality.