Brave New Work

How can we thrive in the changing world of work?

The 2018 Community Summit, Brave New Work, invited us to consider how can we all thrive in the changing world of work.

Technological growth is happening at an unprecedented rate and scale, and it is fundamentally altering the way we organize and value work. The work we do (and how we do it) is changing. One of the biggest challenges in effectively responding to this new world of work is creating a shared understanding of the issues at play and how they intersect. Individuals, businesses, governments, educational institutions, and civil society must collaborate to construct the future we want.

The future of work is here, but it’s still ours to define. From February 26 to March 7 of 2018 we collaborated with partners and diverse communities through a range of events and activities to provoke thinking and encourage solution-finding. We hope you had the opportunity to join us in insightful, illuminating conversations about the future of work. 

Summit Events

  • The Future of Work in Canada: Emerging Trends and Opportunities

    2018, Economy, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work

    What are some of the trends currently defining the new world of work in Canada, and what does our future look like? What opportunities can be seized to build more competitive, prosperous, and inclusive organizations?

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  • Basic Income: Progressive Hopes and Neoliberal Realities

    2018, Economy, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Education + Research

    This lecture will examine the question of basic income (BI). A neoliberal version of BI is being considered and even developed by a number of governments and institutions of global capitalism. This form of BI could enhance the supply of low-wage precarious workers, by offering a public subsidy to employers, paid for by cuts to other areas of social provision.

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  • ReframeWork: From Insights to Action!

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work

    ReframeWork is a national gathering of leading thinkers and innovators on the topic of Future of Work. We will explore how Canada can lead in forming new systems for good work and identify the richest areas of opportunity for solution-building that affects broader change.

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  • The New World of Work: Thriving or Surviving?

    Media + Information, 2018, Economy, Future of Work, Democracy, Summit Brave New Work

    Van Jones and Anne-Marie Slaughter, two leading commentators on the American economy, will discuss the role that citizens, governments and civil society can play in shaping the future of work.They will explore the challenges ahead, as well as how these challenges might be addressed through green jobs, emergent industries, education and public policy

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  • Work in the 21st Century: Innovations in Research

    2018, Economy, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Education + Research

    Research doesn’t just live in libraries and academic papers; it has a profound impact on our day to day lives. Work in the 21st Century is a dynamic evening that showcases the SFU researchers and entrepreneurs who are leading the way in making innovative impacts in the new world of work.

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  • The Urban Worker Project Skillshare

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work

    The Urban Worker Project Skillshare is a day-long gathering, bringing together over 150 independent workers to lean on each other, learn from each other, get valuable expert advice, and build community.

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  • Making Visible the Invisible | City Conversations

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Equity + Justice, Series City Conversations

    Are outdated and stereotypical gender roles contributing to the invisible workload? What is the invisible workload anyway? Don't miss this special edition of SFU City Conversations on intersectionality and invisible labour, presented in partnership with the Simon Fraser Student Society Women's Centre.

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  • Climate of Work: How Does Climate Change Affect the Future of Work

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Climate + Environment

    What does our changing climate have to do with the future of work? Join Embark as they explore the ways our climate impacts different industries such as planning, communications or entrepreneurship.

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  • Symposium: Art, Labour, and the Future of Work

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Arts + Culture

    One of the key distinguishing features of Western modernity is that the activity of labour has always been at the heart of our self-understanding. Work defines who we are. But what might we do in a world without work? Join SFU's Institute for the Humanities for a symposium on art, aesthetics, and self-understanding.

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  • Worker Writers and the Poetics of Labour

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Arts + Culture

    If you gave a worker a pen, what would they write? What stories would they tell, and what experiences might they share? Hear poetry about what it is to work in the 21st century directly from participants of the Worker Writers School at this free public poetry reading.

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  • Creating a Diverse & Resilient Economy in Metro Vancouver

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Cities, Economy

    This panel conversation event will focus on the future of employment in Metro Vancouver, and planning for the employment lands that support the regional economy. What are the trends and issues related to employment in various sectors in Metro Vancouver, and how does land use planning, regulation, and market demand affect the future of work regionally?

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  • Work and Purpose Later in Life

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work

    How is the changing world of work affecting older adults? And what role should work play in our lives, anyway? This special Philosophers' Cafe will address questions of retirement, purpose, and work for older adults.

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  • Beyond Bitcoin: Blockchain and the Future of Work

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work, Economy

    Blockchain technology is making headlines. Enthusiastic or skeptic, the focus of this dialogue will be to better understand key concepts and to explore the wide-ranging applications of distributed ledgers and the implications for business here in BC and in the global economy.

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  • Preparing Students for the Future World of Work

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work

    This event, hosted by CACEE Canada West and SFU Career and Volunteer Services, will feature presentations and discussions on how post-secondary institutions can prepare students for the future of work.

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  • Building Your Resilience

    2018, Future of Work, Summit Brave New Work

    Being a university student can be stressful. This interactive event will share key strategies for enhancing your resilience and well-being, that will support your success now and in your future career.

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Final Report and Program

In the News

'Stop Wasting Genius' Say Thinkers Van Jones, Anne-Marie Slaughter in Vancouver — Alex McKeen, Metro News (March 1, 2018)

Van Jones and Anne Marie Slaughter were the keynote speakers of Simon Fraser University's Brave New Work Summit. They spoke Wednesday at the Queen Elizabeth theatre.

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Workplaces of the future will have to be “anti-stupid,” a near-full audience heard Wednesday evening in Vancouver. And they need to stop wasting massive amounts of talent.

American commentators Van Jones and Anne-Marie Slaughter came together for a keynote talk at this week's Brave New Work Summit, where they offered their takes on the crucial (but often foreboding) question: what needs to change so we can have quality careers in the future?

And both thinkers turned their their attention to the ongoing housing crisis in Vancouver, addressing what cities like Vancouver and San Francisco — both struggling with housing affordability — should do to make sure they remain viable places to live for future generations.

Slaughter referred to Vancouver’s history of strong union-led labour movements, and suggested something different but of a similar scale was needed for the modern world in order to achieve employment stability, given the prominence of temporary and “gig” jobs today.

Beyond that, Jones said bright minds should be able to come together in the city to make housing options available to the workforce, including those who give cities character.

“You gotta have artists and weirdos to be able to stay in the city,” he said.

Jones, well-known for his left-wing political commentary in the U.S. and his social justice advocacy, painted a picture of an American economy he said is currently ill-equipped to harness the talent it needs.

Time, he said, is rushing toward us as technology constantly updates and changes the ways we work and interact with one another. The skills needed to tackle the future therefore, rest in people’s ability to “pivot,” problem-solve, and “hack” society’s problems.

The trouble, he said, is that the economy only rewards a small portion of the population with those skills. Black and other racialized people, poor people, and prisoners who learn to hack common problems behind bars, haven’t been able to break into the lucrative Silicon Valley model of success anywhere near the level white people have.

Think about the invention of hip-hop, Jones argued — it emerged from inner-city youth finding ways to make music without having access to instruments. Or prisoners who fashion lighters out of the meagre materials available to them.

“That genius,” Jones said, “is not being accessed by the technological elite. We’ve got to stop wasting genius.”

A key component of successful workplaces of the future, Jones argued, will be bringing together people who think differently — only “don’t call it diversity, call it anti-stupid,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, Slaughter emphasized the need to re-think the kind of work that's seen as valuable to society. For example, employment such as childcare and elder care, has long gone under-valued and unpaid, something she argued needs to change.

BC Earmarks $4 Million to Explore Growing Basic Income Movement — Metro News (February 27, 2018)

Activists disagree about whether the policy idea is the right move to address poverty

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When Jenna van Draanen first became involved with the Basic Income Canada Network seven years ago, she found herself constantly having to explain the group’s purpose to people she met.

Now basic income — a policy idea that encompasses a range of policy options aimed at giving people cash entitlements from the government — is creeping into the mainstream, and the BC government has committed $4 million to explore its feasibility here.

“Now people on the bus behind me will be talking about it,” the University of British Columbia postdoctoral fellow said Tuesday. “It’s been incredible to see the change in the basic income movement in that time.”

Michal Rozworski, a union researcher and economist, cautioned that not all forms of basic income are equal. In what Rozworski calls its “right wing” iteration basic income could mean a negative income tax to redistribute funds to those making less money.

“At the very other end there’s an actual universal basic income: you give everyone X amount of money per year, as a transfer, period,” he explained.

Basic Income Canada Network advocates for the latter, van Draanen explained, citing research showing such systems result in better mental and physical health outcomes, as well as social cohesion.

But as B.C. sets up a basic income expert committee, details of which the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction will release in the spring, some activists warn it could be no more than a tactic for the government to shelve the issue of poverty.

John Clarke, an activist with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty who’s visiting Vancouver to speak on a Simon Fraser University panel about basic income, said the form of basic income being piloted in Ontario right now doesn’t go far enough to help poor people.

“The Ontario pilot provides a sub-poverty payment (75 per cent of the poverty line) that certainly would not reach the objective of a universal basic income that would allow people to live quite well even if robots take their jobs away,” Clarke said.

Clarke called that approach a “subsidy for low wage employers,” that turns people with low purchasing power into “shoppers in the neoliberal market” while providing an excuse for governments to claw back other forms of social assistance like disability supports.

Meanwhile a universal, unconditional, and adequate basic income that, according to Rozworski, would cost 30 per cent of the country’s GDP, is a politically fraught concept.

“If you really gave everyone a universal basic income it would be like the state providing workers with an unlimited strike fund,” Clarke said. “It’s a complete impossibility.”

Universal public resources like child care and pharmacare do a better job of alleviating the effects of poverty than doling out cash, Clarke argued. He also said there’s a need to reform the welfare system so that it’s more humanizing.

Van Draanen agrees that more humanity is needed in Canada’s welfare system and is hopeful that an unconditional basic income existing alongside social programming will accomplish that.

“I see a lot of harmony on the left, a lot of allyship in terms of we want the same outcomes,” she said. “Most changes I’ve seen to fundamental human rights throughout history have been met with fears of impossibility.”

Will Robots Take My Job? SFU Summit Explores the Future of Work — Alex McKeen, Vancouver Metro (February 26, 2018)

“There’s been a lot of reports written. There’s been a lot of research done. And there’s a lot of inaction,” SFU Public Square Executive Director Janet Webber said in an interview with Metro. “The time for action is now and we really create the future.”

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People entering the workforce today will face a complete overhaul of the definition of ‘work’ over the course of their careers, leaders from the public, private, not-for-profit, and academic sectors heard Monday at Simon Fraser University.

Workplaces will change so much due to job automation and growing inequality that the university is moving to form a three-year innovation lab dedicated to the addressing these problems.

“There’s been a lot of reports written. There’s been a lot of research done. And there’s a lot of inaction,” SFU Public Square Executive Director Janet Webber said in an interview with Metro. “The time for action is now and we really create the future.”

Monday’s event was the first mini-conference in a summit called Brave New Work. About 50 summit participants invited from around the world will work together Tuesday and Wednesday to identify problems in Canada’s workplace that could be addressed by a potential three-year “Future of Canada” lab backed by Radius and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

The lab is in the “problem identification” stage for now, Webber said, but will be launched quickly if all goes well at the summit. The focus of the lab will be to prototype and pilot scalable business solutions to impending challenges within work.

The research that concerns Webber most surrounds automation. One 2017 report by McKinsey showed half of the tasks currently done globally by employed humans could be completed instead by technology that already exists. Examples include driverless cars, advertising technology like Facebook’s platform and automated delivery services. 

That’s something experts in the artificial intelligence field told conference attendees is unavoidable.

“Everything is going to be profoundly changed,” said James Maynard, Wavefront Innovation Society President. “You can’t opt out.”

For the first time in history, Maynard said, technology’s role in workplaces is moving beyond making tasks more efficient. The new frontier is employing technology in strategic ways.

It may also mean there will be an increasing emphasis on labour requiring a human touch. As futurist Nikolas Badminton put it, “We used to work with our hands, now we work with our heads, and going forward we’re going to work with our hearts.”

How that shift will manifest remains to be seen, and is raises uncertainties — especially for those already on the margins of the workforce like racialized people and women. That’s a hot button issue for members of the millennial generation, 80 per cent of whom would prefer a more inclusive workplace, said Deloitte’s Tara van Zuiden.

Iglika Ivanova from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said many of those who face significant barriers to entering the workforce, like immigrants, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities, end up in precarious situations like part-time employment and contract work, which may not include health benefits and security.

“Social protection models for workers need to change,” Ivanova said.

One possible solution explored Monday was ‘alternative business models’, like cooperatives, some of which offer benefits and supports to freelancers and contractors. Steve Rio, who founded the consultancy Briteweb, went so far as to suggest a future path where people are considered “team members” instead of being divided into “employees” and “freelancers.”

Briteweb’s team members, Rio said, work from wherever they want, and at various levels of commitment. It’s a new model for work Rio believes will be more inclusive of lifestyles.

“We’re just hoping that regulation doesn’t stomp out what we’re doing,” he said.

Events of the Brave New Work summit continue until March 7.

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