MIT Work of the Future Task Force: Regions and Industries

A host of institutions and organizations, as well as norms and policies, shape the relationship between technology, workers, and society more broadly. Institutions and organizations include firms, governments, labor organizations, local labor markets, as well as civic, charitable, political, and religious organizations. Norms and policies, meanwhile, shape expectations and guide behavior. Through an industry lens, we are researching trends in several industries in terms of technology adoption, changing skills requirements and overall changes to work and jobs. Advanced manufacturing and healthcare are two of the industries that are being examined. Comparative within-country, cross-region analyses as well as cross-country analysis will examine how different labor markets, communities, as well as countries, are responding to these technological advances and workplace changes.

Project website.

Automation Isn't the Biggest Threat to US Factory Jobs

The number of American workers who quit their jobs during the pandemic—over a fifth of the workforce—may constitute one of the largest American labor movements in recent history. Workers demanded higher pay and better conditions, spurred by rising inflation and the pandemic realization that employers expected them to risk their lives for low wages, mediocre benefits, and few protections from abusive customers—often while corporate stock prices soared. At the same time, automation has become cheaper and smarter than ever. Robot adoption hit record highs in 2021. This wasn’t a surprise, given prior trends in robotics, but it was likely accelerated by pandemic-related worker shortages and Covid-19 safety requirements. Will robots automate away the jobs of entitled millennials who “don’t want to work,” or could this technology actually improve workers’ jobs and help firms attract more enthusiastic employees?


Redeployment or robocalypse? Workers and automation in Ohio manufacturing SMEs

A case study on small and medium metalworking firms in Ohio explores how US-based factory owners conceptualize automation and the impact that newly introduced technologies have on workers. The cost and risk of replacing entire production processes and the still-relevant capabilities of old equipment encourage the interviewed firms to complement rather than replace existing technologies and workers. An incremental, piecemeal strategy makes it less likely that companies will introduce more integrated automation systems that may presage fully-automated manufacturing.