Future of Work

UN system strategy on the future of work

The impacts of technological advances on the labour market have implications for the achievement of various Sustainable Development Goals in an interconnected and mutually reinforcing way, in particular Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 3 on healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages, Goal 4 on education, Goal 5 on gender equality, Goal 8 on decent work and inclusive growth, Goal 9 on infrastructure and industrialization, Goal 10 on inequalities and Goal 17 on partnerships. A number of recent initiatives and activities have been implemented by international organizations, all of which shed light on how changes in the world of work present challenges and opportunities for the 2030 Agenda.

The “United Nations system strategy on the future of work” (CEB/2019/1/Add.2), developed through the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) under the leadership of the International Labour Organization (ILO), provides a system-wide approach towards assisting Member States in addressing changes to the nature of work in a way that contributes to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and also mitigates the risks and realizes the opportunities resulting from new technologies and transformative demographic, environmental and economic megatrends. The strategy is based on a human-centred approach to the future of work, which was echoed by ILO in its Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, adopted at its 108th session on the occasion of the organization’s 100th anniversary in June 2019.

The strategy provides an overarching policy framework to serve as a basis to ensure coherent policy approaches across efforts by the United Nations system, including at the country level, especially in reducing technological gaps, expanding social protection, promoting life-long learning, boosting sustainable infrastructure investment for green jobs, promoting a care economy and creating supportive macroeconomic policies. It enables the United Nations system to better support Member States in developing a shared policy framework for achieving and ensuring decent jobs for all in future societies within the context of the 2030 Agenda, in particular by improving the coordination and mobilization of knowledge, expertise and capacities across the system and taking into consideration the specific realities and challenges of countries.


The implementation of the strategy is being coordinated and monitored under the continuing leadership of ILO, including in the context of the follow-up to the ILO centenary and Global Commission on the Future of Work.

The strategy is closely aligned with the other HLCP-driven initiatives, in particular on youth employment, and also complements and mutually supports the interlinked approaches on the future of learning and education and on capacity-building on artificial intelligence.

Future of the United Nations system workforce

Building on this work, the High-level Committee on Management (HLCM) in 2019 launched a workstream to reflect on the future of work for the United Nations workforce in a comprehensive and integrated way. The Committee established a Task Force on the Future of the UN System Workforce, which organized its work around three workstreams:

  • Contractual modalities, aimed at developing a proposal to pilot a sustainable contract modality to enable a more agile and diverse UN workforce while considering the needs of a future workforce;
  • New ways of working, to propose elements to foster an enabling culture and positive employee experience from multiple perspectives, including leadership, people management, flexible work arrangements, transparency and dialogue;
  • Leveraging technology, aimed at launching pilot projects on new technologies (robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Blockchain, etc.) applied to human resources management.

While continuing its work on these critical areas of focus, the Task Force also undertook an assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and adapted the direction of its work. The Task Force, seeking the guidance of HLCM, is expected to finalize its work and propose concrete deliverables at the beginning of 2021.


The importance of scientific and technological innovation for meeting many sustainable development challenges and for accelerating human progress is widely noted throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The General Assembly, in its resolutions 72/242 and 73/17, also recognizes that the pace and scope of rapid technological change can have far-reaching implications – both positive and negative – for the achievement of sustainable development, requiring international and multi-stakeholder cooperation in order to benefit from opportunities and address challenges.

Under the chairmanship of Secretary-General António Guterres, the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) and its subsidiary machinery have considered a selection of “frontier issues” to ensure that the United Nations system is positioned to provide timely and informed support and advice to Member States in today's quickly evolving technological context. 

At its session in November 2017, CEB launched a process examining the risks and opportunities for sustainable development associated with new and emerging technologies and related developments, specifically considering artificial intelligence (AI), cyberspace, biotechnology, and the peace and security implications of emerging technologies. The aim was to identify appropriate areas for engagement by the UN system on frontier technologies in support of Member States. The discussions were informed by analyses produced by the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP), which was then tasked by CEB to conduct further policy and programme analysis regarding the impact of frontier technologies for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Subsequently, HLCP presented three interlinked system-wide strategies on key frontier topics – AI, the future of work and the future of learning and education – to the Board, which endorsed them in May 2019.

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Business Operations
  • Education and Learning
  • Future of Work
  • Youth
  • High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP)
  • High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM)
  • Human Resources Network (HRN)


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