What is the FOW?

When we think of the FOW, our immediate thoughts often focus on technological trends such as the idea that developments in robotics and automation will replace our jobs in the future. These are the type of clickbait headlines that are published on a regular basis in the mainstream media. For example, as I am writing this article on 14/02/22 I can see after a quick Google search the NY Times published an article a couple of weeks ago titled: Will Robots Really Destroy the Future of Work. However, the FOW is much more complex than this. The FOW is a multifaceted concept consisting of many interconnected trends that could significantly disrupt and shape the labour market in the future.

In my research, I have tried to identify and categorise some of the key FOW trends that are being discussed in the literature. This resulted in approximately 20 trends in total such as Brexit, changing working models, growing diversity in the workplace, AI, climate change, increased inequality, tighter controls on immigration, de-globalisation and, most recently, COVID-19. For the purpose of clarity, I categorised each trend using the PESTLE framework however, the reality is that most trends are interconnected while some are likely to have a bigger impact on the labour market than others.

While the impact of these trends is uncertain, there is debates about how they will impact the FOW. On the one hand, some have argued that these trends have the potential to displace jobs, heighten inequality and cause mass unemployment. On the other hand, others have argued that these trends present an opportunity to free people from the drudgery of work and reduce working hours and increase leisure time. Another view is that these trends are nothing new and the only concern is that they may influence the quality of work rather than the quantity of work.

While the impact of these trends are widely disputed and therefore cannot be predicted with significant confidence, it is clear that young people are set to be affected the most. They will have to prepare for and navigate a labour market could be significantly different to the current labour market. Careers education is critical in supporting and equipping young people with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate these challenges. However, in my research I found that over 90% of careers professionals who responded to my survey said they would value more support to better engage with young people about the challenges of the FOW.

My research on the FOW

I’m currently 18 months into my PhD at the International Centre for Guidance Studies where I’m exploring three important issues around career professionals understanding of the future of work (FOW).

Firstly, I am exploring how careers professionals understand and interpret information about the FOW. As you will know, there are masses of articles and literature published on the FOW every week, so making sense of this information can be difficult. From a recent survey to over 200 career professionals employed in English secondary schools, I found some of the most popular ways in which career professionals are developing their understanding of the FOW is through careers websites, careers-based events and meetings, and from others in their professional network.

Secondly, I am exploring where careers professionals are locating information to inform their overall understanding of the FOW. Information on the FOW is regularly published by academics, NGO’s (e.g., the World Economic Forum), consultancy firms (e.g., the PwC) and supranational organisations (e.g., the International Labour Organisation). This information usually provides insight about some of the global issues related to the FOW, but this can be difficult to interpret and apply to local regions. Information more relatable to a UK context is commonly published on websites such as the local careers hubs, NESTA and government departments. I am therefore particularly interested in understanding where careers professionals are accessing this information.

Lastly, my research is exploring how careers professionals knowledge and understanding of the FOW informs their practice. Here, I am interested in learning specifically about what activities are commonly undertaken in schools to engage with young people about the FOW, and what additional support careers professionals need to improve their practice. From a recent survey, I found the activities that were viewed as ‘most helpful’ to get young people to learn about the FOW were through personal guidance interviews, employer engagement activities and integrating careers into the curriculum. However, there were a range of other activities that careers professionals viewed as helpful, such as careers focussed lessons, work experience, and FE, HE, or apprenticeship talks, among others.

To expand on these research questions even further I hope to visit a number of secondary schools during the next academic year to talk about the FOW in with careers professionals and young people.

If you are interested in finding out more about my research as it progresses or would like to chat about the FOW in more detail, please feel free to email me on the follow address: lewis.clark@shu.ac.uk

Recommended literature

As mentioned, there is masses of information published on the FOW. Here are some articles, books and websites that I recommend checking out if you would like more information on the FOW:

Journal articles

  • Balliester, T., & Elsheikhi, A. (2018). The future of work: a literature review. ILO Research Department Working Paper, 29, 1-62.
  • Santana, M., & Cobo, M. J. (2020). What is the future of work? A science mapping analysis. European Management Journal, 38(6), 846-862.
  • Z_punkt The Foresight Company The Centre for Research in Futures and Innovation. (2014). The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030. UKCES, Wath-upon-Dearne, England.


  • Ford, M. (2015). Rise of the Robots. New York.
  • Bastani, A. (2019). Fully automated luxury communism. Verso Books.
  • Srnicek, N., & Williams, A. (2019). Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World without Work.


In 2021 Lewis Clark was appointed as a quantitative researcher at Sheffield Hallam University in the Sheffield Institute of Education Research and Knowledge Exchange (SIRKE). Before that, he worked as a research assistant for four years at the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS). While working at iCeGS he began studying part-time for a PhD at the University of Derby, supervised by Tristram Hooley and Siobhan Neary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: