University to support major new social sciences project exploring the future of work

University to support major new social sciences project exploring the future of work

The University of Aberdeen will support a new £8 million research centre to explore how digital technology will impact the future of work.

The Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (DigIT) will operate from the business schools of the universities of Sussex and Leeds and aim to provide a compelling empirical base for policy makers beyond current levels of speculation as to the impact of new technologies on jobs and workers.

It will be supported by Professor Claire Wallace from the University of Aberdeen who will provide expertise in digital working in rural areas of Scotland

The research centre will launch at the start of 2020 and has secured £8 million in Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding over a five year period. 

It is one of four recipients of £25 million of ESRC funding around the UK.

In particular its objectives include:

  • Generate new knowledge to inform the development of an analytical framework around the concept of the 'connected worker' and the 'connected economy' by maximising knowledge exchange and co-produced research with relevant communities.
  • Establish a new Data Observatory as a one-platform library of national and international resources for decision-makers connecting with UK Industrial Strategy and welfare policy
  • Initiate a £500,000 Innovation Fund providing financial support for new research initiatives and methodological approaches, enabling international exchanges and extensive dissemination.
  • Provide a strong career development programme for mid and early career researchers through mentoring and staff development, internships and summer schools.
  • Ensure the long-term sustainability of the centre by developing an MSc in People Analytics informed by DigIT research.

Professor Wallace said: “We are delighted to be supporting the work of this important new Centre”

“The University of Aberdeen has a track record in digital communications in rural areas and we will be exploring new dimensions of digital work and the platform economy – using innovative ways of linking producers and consumers of services with Artificial Intelligence.  Examples include Airbnb and Uber but not all of these work in rural areas. 

"We think that this has a particular relevance in rural areas with dispersed populations who do not live close to major service centres. At the moment these services are underdeveloped in rural areas but platforms offering care services, tourism, lift sharing, rural co-operatives, delivery options and so on represent a major opportunity to create a smarter and more connected countryside”.

The Centre will work with a wide range of knowledge exchange partners and advisory board members including Eversheds Sutherland, Marks and Spencer, Citibank, Ernst and Young, Walmart US and the Department of Work and Pensions.

Centre co-director Jacqueline O'Reilly, Professor of Comparative Human Resource Management at the University of Sussex Business School, said: "We know that some firms are at the forefront of digital transformations, whilst others are lagging behind. We know that we have some of the best qualified STEM graduates in the UK, while other lack basic digital skills. And we know that countries vary in their ability to effectively take up some of these challenges. 

“But we don’t always know why these gaps are appearing and what can be done to ensure that digital transformation is inclusive. The Digital Futures at Work Research Centre will have some of these questions at the heart of its investigations to understand not only what is happening in the UK, how this compares internationally, and what needs to be done.”

Centre co-director Mark Stuart, Montague Burton Professor of Human Resource Management and Employment Relations at Leeds University Business School, said: “The impact of new technologies on the future of work is one of the most pressing policy concerns of our time. Yet debate is largely speculative. Over the next five years, the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre will embark on an agenda setting programme of research that will provide compelling evidence on the contemporary transformation of work. 

“The centre will act as a focal point for all those interested in the future of work, providing a much needed space to bring together academic researchers, policy makers and practitioners to interrogate contemporary developments within an historical, international and comparative perspective.”