The Future of Work

What is the ‘Future of Work’?

We hear a lot of talk about Industry 4.0 and the importance of digital transformation in helping UK manufacturers to be more competitive and sustainable. One of the most important issues going forward will be the impact of digital technologies on work and people. This workstream addresses these issues, asking questions about the impact of digital technologies on job satisfaction, innovation, and productivity. The research will also look for solutions to pressing human-centric issues facing manufacturers.

The team are also interested in exploring how other countries are building a strong digital manufacturing future, and in particular the future of manufacturing work. For example, Singapore is looking to increase its manufacturing workforce by 50% by 2030 and Japan has a clearly defined Society 5.0 agenda.

We know that there is a real issue for manufacturers attracting and retaining talent. This workstream has conducted a UK wide survey into the perceptions of manufacturing (particularly in the younger generation) to help us understand what people think of manufacturing, and influences on these perceptions. This has been followed up with a further survey of new technologies, people and the impact on manufacturing work.

As firms consider investment decisions around digital manufacturing, we want to make sure that they are also thinking about people and work. We are actively seeking examples of good practice that make the case for putting people at the heart of decision making.

Why is this important for the future of manufacturing?

Governments want to help companies to be more competitive, to improve productivity and to build a more resilient economy. We also want companies to be more sustainable and we want to create a future where people have rewarding, high-quality, and well-paid jobs. Our work will highlight the importance of encouraging equality, diversity, and wellbeing in the manufacturing workforce to achieving these aims.

Research topics:

The Future of Work team has recently completed a survey of 2107 representative people drawn from across the UK to provide insights into their perceptions of the manufacturing sector and jobs. The primary aim of this survey is to better understand UK public perceptions of the manufacturing industry and jobs, and what factors shape these views and opinions. We are interested in examining a range of issues:

  • whether people still value (and how positive they feel about) manufacturing in the post-industrial economy, and their awareness of manufacturing in the media;
  • what people associate with manufacturing work and jobs, and what qualities they are looking for jobs in the current labour market that manufacturers need to reflect in job offers if they want to attract talent;
  • the perceived quality of manufacturing jobs for those currently working in (or familiar with) the sector and whether people would encourage others to enter the sector?;
  • how new manufacturing technologies are likely to change future jobs and careers in manufacturing; and
  • how can the sector best attract emerging young and ‘untapped’ talent?

In the ‘war for talent’ perceptions matter because they provide a snapshot of public opinion about the attraction of the sector and working in manufacturing. They may not measure up against ‘reality’, they may be ‘misinformed’ but (ultimately) this matters to many of the people we interviewed than employers and industry stakeholders. However, if you are wondering how people in the UK look at the sector, or how employers should be best positioned to attract people into manufacturing, ignore them at your peril.

Our results throw up some surprising and interesting findings that we hope will be useful to a range of key audiences: academics, employers, industry stakeholders and UK policy makers.

  • People still value manufacturing but visibility is lacking
  • Images of manufacturing work are putting people off
  • Job quality matters in manufacturing
  • The digital future looks bright but there are concerns about downskilling and job destruction
  • Attracting future talent means more good people practice
  • Keep talking up the value of your sector, people know you are essential and valuable, but the media reach and messaging of the sector isn’t reflecting that effectively.
  • Legacy images of old-fashioned manufacturing work impact negatively on how people look at jobs and careers in the sector. Although job quality is reasonable for many manufacturing workers, more needs to be done selling this message outside the sector to hard-to-reach groups such as women and minorities.
  • People anticipate that new technologies will improve the quality of future manufacturing jobs but have concerns about job destruction and its likely impact on opportunities and job security.
  • Going forward, attracting new talent will mean employers making greater investments in positive people practices in areas such as well-being, flexible working, and inclusive workspaces.

The COVID-19 crisis and its impacts have required manufacturing businesses to demonstrate dynamism in innovating their business models, developing new product and service offers, and transforming how they may organise work.

Businesses involved in digital manufacturing have been particularly effective in harnessing new technology to support agility and innovation. But it is just as important that smart manufacturers manage employees effectively and design workplaces to empower people at all levels to contribute to innovation and productivity.

New manufacturing technologies will shape the future of work in UK manufacturing and help transform people, jobs, and skills in the sector. Part of the challenge facing many UK manufacturing leaders and managers, however, is trying to understand how these new technologies can help improve productivity. Unless you align the technology with the people, you won’t maximise the performance and productivity benefits from the technology.

We have conducted a survey with senior representatives in over 300 manufacturing businesses across the UK (plus follow-up depth interviews with leaders) to tell us about how they use these new manufacturing technologies to shape their people practices helping with innovation and productivity. Our survey aims to identify and share good practice on how smart manufacturers can use effective people management, work redesign and leadership development to maximise the benefits of digital technologies.

Our survey findings will be published in early summer 2024.

Distributed leadership refers to the shift from a reliance on command-and-control leadership structures towards a model where people across an organisation work in flexible teams that allow companies to be agile enough to respond to emerging changes in technologies and their external environments or ecosystems. Distributed leadership is defined as a series of collaborative, autonomous practices where leadership is pushed out to give people and teams autonomy to innovate.

We are exploring distributed leadership as part of our survey on ‘New Technologies, Agility & People’ which will be available in early summer 2024.

The Future of Work at InterAct Global utilises the same themes outlined by InterAct’s work on The Future of Global Manufacturing Ecosystems.

In the Future of Work research-stream we are exploring several themes:

  • What could working in manufacturing look like by 2040?
  • What roles will Industrial Digital Technologies (IDT’s) and automation play across global manufacturing ecosystems in shaping the future of work in different contexts?
  • What will working in manufacturing look like across different political, cultural and regulatory contexts?

As part of our work we have conducted an extensive literature review (of academic and grey literatures) and spoken to a range of experts (from major manufacturers and industry stakeholders) in the US, Europe, and Australasia with a view to conducting a series of case studies with participating companies across the supply chain.

Watch this space for more updates over the course of 2024.

Research Team:

Professor Jillian MacBryde



With experience in senior leadership roles at UK universities including Deputy Dean of The York Management School, Director of Business and Community Engagement at TYMS and Vice-Dean of Strathclyde Business School, responsible for Knowledge Exchange. Jill is currently overseeing Strathclyde University’s focus on Innovation and Operations Management in support of the National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland. She is Director of Research in the Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management at Strathclyde.

Jill is leading the InterAct workstream ‘The Future of Work’. This addresses some of the major questions emerging from the initial project review, particularly the impact of IDTs on work, the impact of automation on job satisfaction, innovation and productivity and the people dimension of ecosystems and connectivity. This is aimed at attracting talent into manufacturing and ensuring investment decisions include thinking about people and work.

Professor Colin Lindsay



Professor Colin Lindsay MA, MSc, PhD has been researching and teaching on employability, skills, public management and social policy for more than twenty years. He has published more than 40 peer reviewed articles, book chapters and policy reports. His books include ‘Disability benefits, welfare reform and employment policy’ (co-edited with Donald Houston, published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

He serves on the Editorial Boards of two journals: ‘Education & Training’; and ‘Social Policy and Administration’. He has co-edited special issues of the journals: ‘Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy’; ‘Policy Studies’; and ‘Social Policy and Administration’. He is a member of the Editorial Team for ‘Social Policy and Administration’.

He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Social Policy Association.

Dr. Robert Stewart



Robert is an experienced social science researcher with a history of working in HE and private sector consultancy.

He has extensive knowledge of policy evaluation and analysis, project, program and impact evaluation in social research. He has previously worked at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Strathclyde with interests in employment & training, employee engagement and innovative, new technologies.

Carolina Marin-Cadavid



Carolina is a passionate and driven researcher in the field of international business and management. Over the years, she has contributed with her expertise to various companies and industries by aiding in their international expansion.

She has worked in the realm of academia for more than 11 years as a Lecturer, Knowledge Exchange Associate, and Researcher. She has also had the opportunity to work in administrative positions as a Head of the International Business Programme at the Universidad de Medellin, Colombia. Her research interests are focused on exploring the intricacies of corporate strategy within Multinational Enterprises (MNEs), particularly strategy implementation and the impact of stakeholders on shaping and influencing strategic decision making.

Carolina is currently a Research Associate of InterAct workstream ‘The Future of Work’. She is to address some of the major questions emerging from the initial project review, particularly the impact of IDTs on work in the manufacturing industry. Her work is examining the impact of automation on job satisfaction, innovation and productivity, and the people dimension in a global context.