The Future of Work: Sharing Knowledge and Insights at the 2024 MSM Academic Conference


On 23 May 2024, MSM hosted a successful online Academic Conference on the Future of Work: Challenges and Opportunities in a Disrupted World. The event featured insightful keynotes and over 30 paper presentations, addressing various topics related to the rapidly evolving work environment.

Dr. Diederik de Boer, Director MSM Expert Centre for Emerging Economies and Associate Professor Sustainable Business Development, opened the conference by highlighting three major trends that are having a profound impact on workers, businesses and societies around the world: the growing need for sustainability, increasing digitalisation, and geopolitical developments. As an introduction to the content of the conference, he outlined key challenges and opportunities in the future workplace.

In his welcome speech, MSM Director Mr. Meinhard Gans highlighted the conference's integration of Maastricht University's expertise in the Future of Work, AI, and Technological Development with MSM's 70-year global experience. He noted the importance of examining technological developments across various educational, economic, cultural, and political contexts. This conference, he stated, offers a platform for exchanging expertise from diverse countries, economic systems, and cultures.

The uncertainty about the impact of AI on work

In his keynote Uncertainty about the impact of AI on work and how to reduce it? Prof. Dr. Mark Levels addressed the many uncertainties surrounding AI's impact on the labour market. He explained that the adoption of the labour market to the new reality depends on many factors like investment costs, the price of labour, national and regional policies. He addressed fears coming out of these uncertainties, e.g. is AI replacing or creating jobs. He highlighted models that explore these issues but emphasised that these models are heuristic and do not provide a forecast or prediction. Prof. Dr. Mark Levels is Professor of Sociology of Technology at Maastricht University, Programme Director at the Research Centre for Education and the Labor Market (ROA) of Maastricht University, and Dean of Maastricht Academy for Lifelong Learning

Skill needs in the Green Transition

In his keynote Skill Needs in the Green Transition: The Role and Management of Labour Migration, Sam Huckstep, Research Associate at Center for Global Development, emphasised that the tremendous labour demand due to the green transition of the European economy necessitates migration policies to supplement the domestic workforce supply. He argued that effective mobility schemes should address skill needs/labour shortages, complement the domestic workforce, engage the private sector from the beginning, ensure mutual skill needs in destination and origin countries, include training components, and support cross-country skill recognition and curriculum alignment.

AI in Africa

In his keynote AI or Jobs? What is the Way Forward in Africa? Prof. Dr. Tom Peter Migun Ogada, Executive Director African Centre for Technology Studies, discussed AI challenges in Africa. He noted policymakers' concerns about potential job losses due to widespread digital technology adoption. While acknowledging these fears, he also highlighted new job opportunities especially in the agricultural sector, and sectors facing shortages, like the education and health sector. Prof. Ogada emphasised the growing importance of ethical issues, such as data protection and human rights in AI policies. He also pointed out that AI strategies tend to focus more on training youth for the future than on reskilling those at risk of losing their jobs.

Paper presentations

In two parallel sessions, more than 30 papers were presented across six main themes. In an open atmosphere, many insights, findings and recommendations were shared, providing an inspirational environment.

The Future of Work on the Work Floor
Presentations in this session focused on organisational performance and the growing trend of quiet quitting. Organisational performance depends on many factors, like soft skills of staff, teamwork and leadership styles. However, what factor matters most seems to depend highly on who you ask. For example, employees that are asked about “quiet quitting” blame abusive leadership, while business leaders feel that their employees are failing in their ability to work effectively in teams.

Governance for the Future of Work
The paper presentations in this theme highlighted that the lack of regulations and upholding them in fast-growing nations pose threats that require discussion and discourse on measurements to protect (gig)workers and vulnerable groups. Implementing AI and not preparing the environment with meaningful work or proper working conditions leads to unrest and unexploited potential of a whole working group, even more so in emerging economies.

AI and the Digitalisation in the Future of Work
Papers in this session discussed AI's transformative potential. One study highlighted that workers acknowledge AI's potential but value human interaction in their professional settings. Another study found that manufacturing workers prefer task changes with complementary AI over autonomous AI. Additionally, AI's ability to assist neurodivergent employees was addressed. For instance, AI can cater people with autism, ADHD, or dyslexia, by creating adaptable work models.

Migration and Labour Mobility
The session highlighted that the EU's green transition requires labour migration to address skill gaps, necessitating collaboration with sending countries to support their own green economies. Labour mobility can help balance job scarcity and worker oversupply, particularly in the green economy. Due to migration sensitivities, circular migration is a crucial approach. Additionally, the growth of the hydrogen energy sector, especially green hydrogen production in North Africa, presents job opportunities. However, it requires reformed vocational training programmes in Morocco and Egypt to equip the workforce with the needed skills.

Future of Work in the Vocational Training Sector
Papers in this session mainly addressed the role of education and training to prepare workers for the future of work. Important finding in this session is the fact that universities and vocational training centres need to update their approach to prepare graduates for the changing job market. This means integrating new educational trends (AI), focusing on professional skills, and collaborating with the professional world to meet new skill requirements.

(Agri)-sustainability and the Future of Work
The main conclusion from this session is that digitalisation and AI have both positive and negative impacts on biodiversity and natural ecosystems. On the positive side, they improve efficiency in land and water use through data-driven studies. On the negative side, they can create a lack of focus on real biodiversity issues. Another conclusion is that applied research can foster technical innovations, especially when implementing the triple-helix model for Public-Private Partnerships, creating a win-win scenario that promotes advanced technologies.

To complement the keynotes and paper sessions about the future of work, Prof. Dr. Alexander Grigoriev, Vice-dean for Research at UM School of Business and Economics and Professor of Data Science for Business and Economics, offered key insights into the future of the academia. He discussed challenges like unequal access to new technologies across the globe, concerns about academic and scientific integrity with the rise of Chat GPT, and mental health of people working in education. He also highlighted opportunities, including multidisciplinary education and research, lifelong learning and citizen science (involvement of the public in research and education).

Dr. Diederik de Boer concluded the Academic Conference on a high note, summarising key findings and conclusions from a fruitful, insightful, and inspiring event.

Thank you to all who made this MSM Academic Conference a success!