Putting workers at the center of the future of work discussion

A conversation with Sarita Gupta, director, Ford Foundation Future of Work(ers)

In this episode of the Work in Progress podcast, my guest is Sarita Gupta, the director of the Ford Foundation‘s Future of Work(ers) program.

The organization takes a critical look at how emerging technologies continue to change the way we work—both the skills we need and the tasks we perform—as well the very definition of employment.

“Traditional employment is beginning to look more and more like ‘gig’ work, with unpredictable work schedules and more precarious working conditions and rewards,” according to its mission statement. And, as its name reflects, the program is about putting people and their well-being at the center of the discussion around the future of work.

“A core part of the Future of Work(ers) program is the importance of ensuring that working people have the ability to shape policies in their workplaces and the new economic models of our time. And so to that point, worker voice and worker influence is really, really important.”

“The future of work is not just about automation—automation is really important and we know it is taking place—but it’s also about the fissuring workplaces, workplaces that are shifting in these dramatic ways,” says Gupta.

Gupta and the organization believe there is a huge opportunity right now “to strengthen the ability of workers to be able to come together collectively, to negotiate on the many issues that are impacting their lives.”

And she adds, “we are hopeful that there are businesses out there who also understand that it’s in their interest to ensure that workers have a voice and are helping to shape some of the solutions that many of them are challenged with in this moment.”

She says that skilling, reskilling, and training are great examples of where there can be great partnership between workers and businesses, but, Gupta argues, skills and training can’t be the only solution.

“As we ask workers to become lifelong learners and upgrade their skills, we also need to upgrade the quality of jobs,” Gupta tells me. “No one working full time should ever live in poverty. That is so basic yet it’s still not the reality in our country. And that speaks directly to the role of employers and the role of businesses.

“It’s important that we’re creating new jobs. It’s important that we’re bettering the quality of the current jobs in ways that really ensure that workers have a fair chance to survive and thrive in our economy.”

“It’s important that we’re creating new jobs. It’s important that we’re bettering the quality of the current jobs in ways that really ensure that workers have a fair chance to survive and thrive in our economy.”

Gupta emphasizes that the future is fundamentally about people and how we can collectively develop a path to shared prosperity and economic security for all workers. She says the program’s work focuses on workers who have historically been excluded from labor protections—women, people of color, immigrants, many marginalized workers in low wage sectors of the economy in particular.

The Future of Work(ers) program supports various strategies to ensure all workers have a stronger voice in the changing workforce, which you can read about on their website.

Gupta is clearly passionate about ensuring everyone has the opportunity to get a good job and career. That passion comes from her own experiences growing up in Rochester, New York, during the time Kodak was downsizing.

[Watch our WorkingNation original documentary on how shifting technology changed Kodak and impacted its workforce here.]

“I grew up in a very working class community where I saw literally the livelihoods of people, their rugs being pulled out from under them. And I was pretty young, but I had friends whose parents were losing jobs and we’re not finding other jobs that paid the same wages as they had received at Kodak and provided the same kind of benefits,” Gupta shares.

“I saw this transformation of the city I grew up in. And I think at a really young age, I was profoundly impacted by how devastating that was for families, how it immediately cut off economic opportunities for so many or limited economic opportunities for so many.”

You can listen to my conversation with Sarita Gupta on this page, or you can download it and listen wherever you get your podcast.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast here.

Episode 171: Sarita Gupta, director, Ford Foundation’s Future of Work(ers) program
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts