“I can’t remember the last time (if ever) I was surrounded by so many brilliant and passionate individuals from such a wide array of personal and professional backgrounds. I was able to experience that this month as I had the honor of representing Fulbright Portugal at the 2018 EU-US Young Leaders Seminar in Brussels, Belgium. Through a series of panels, discussion groups, and social events, I interacted, bonded, and debated with people from all over the US and EU about “The Future of Work.”

From the perspective of very diverse fields such as politics, education, economics, and even artificial intelligence, we tackled three extremely important ideas concerning the future of work and the world as we know it:
Technology and the Future of Work;
Skills of the Future Workforce; and
Social Implications of the Changing Work Environment

Each topic included a panel with representatives from many relevant organizations such as the Alliance for Ethical International Recruitment Practices, the European Commission, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) who discussed everything from the effects of the changing workforce on youth employment, to the newly devised European Pillar of Social Rights, to the “up-skilling” of employees for future jobs that have yet to be created.

After hearing from the panelists, we broke out into smaller groups where we discussed potential solutions to the issues raised by each of these topics. We debated thought-provoking questions such as, Will robots steal our jobs? How can we know what the “skills of the future” will be? And How can we ensure access to social protection for all? My particular breakout group spent a lot of time discussing the precarious state of our workforce today; the checkout machine at your local supermarket has already replaced the job of a “low-skilled” employee, so what support exists to help that now jobless employee find another job or “re-skill” them into another position? What does “low-skilled” mean anyway and what will it mean in the future? Who in our already unequal society will be most immediately affected by these changes? These questions also pushed us to consider the value and purpose of work itself and to contemplate whether experimenting with Universal Based Income (UBI), as some EU countries already are, is the next step towards changing our relationship to work entirely.

Many of us agreed that in an ideal world, the rise of technology could help transition us from working as a means of survival to something we do for joy or pleasure; technology could create different jobs that are flexible both in terms of hours and locations, allowing more people to work and to do work that they actually enjoy. However, we also noted that this transition is dependent on social, economic, and political institutions prioritizing the social welfare of people over maximizing profit while also acknowledging and addressing existing systems that put our most vulnerable communities at risk, exploit them, or disregard them altogether. In other words, we agreed that “The Future of Work” should be one that is fair and just for all.

Though I’m sure many of us left with more questions than answers, I personally know significantly more now about technology, the impact it will have (and is already having) on our society, and the urgent attention we should be giving it. I believe the more programs such as Fulbright, Erasmus+, Marie-Curie and hopefully in the future, more grassroots organizations, come together to raise awareness about the implications the future of work will have, the sooner we can transform these vital dialogues into the direct action that is needed to make necessary change.

I’m extremely grateful to the Fulbright Commission of Portugal and the Fulbright Commission of Belgium for making this truly transformative experience possible for me.”


Genesis Garcia is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at Instituto Politécnico do Cávado e Ave, 2017/2018.

Genesis represented Fulbright Portugal at the 2018 EU-US Young Leaders Seminar, held in Belgium.