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The Changing U.S. Workforce

The Changing U.S. Workforce

A human-looking robot pushes a cart in a warehouse.
Credit: Pond5

By Christine Casatelli and Daphne Northrop

When GBH Senior Executive in Charge and series creator Denise DiIanni launched her Future of Work documentary project a few years ago, she knew the ambitious, multiplatform undertaking would be a challenge. Was it too audacious, she wondered, to try to predict the future of how we make our livelihoods?

Little did she know she would be immersing herself into one of the most complex and turbulent issues of our time.

The filmmakers of the three-part PBS series explore the employment trends that are bubbling beneath the surface and how they shape our career trajectories.

The series airs on GBH 2 and nationwide at 10pm on September 1, 8 and 15, and viewers can stream the companion digital series Future of Work: The Next Generation on PBS Digital Studios and PBS Voices YouTube Channel.

Despite the challenges of filming during a pandemic, growing unemployment and a growing acknowledgment of persistent racial inequities, DiIanni said the quality of the journalism shines in the series.

“Even though we ended up conducting a lot of interviews outdoors and some directors had to direct via Zoom, the reporting is in-depth, and the interviews are diverse and revealing,” she said.

The series is narrated by Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, star of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. DiIanni said she was looking for humanity and freshness in her choice for narrator, and Obi-Melekwe delivers. “It was really important to make this series appealing to a broad audience,” she said.

The award-winning filmmakers of Future of Work come from a range of backgrounds and experiences, each tackling a different inflection point in the shifting and tumultuous landscape of work.

  • In the first episode, The New Industrial Revolution, Washington, D.C.-based producer Graham Townsley sets the stage, outlining the technological and global factors upending work today. “The more we talked to people, COVID has not so much changed the equation in the ways that work is transforming, but it has accelerated it,” he said.
  • Futureproof, the second episode directed by Llew Smith of New Orleans and produced by Kelly Thomson in Massachusetts, explores what it takes to not become obsolete as the world of work ricochets around us. “Even if technology creates more jobs than we lose, there are still going to be people who are not going to be part of that transformation,” he said. “There seems to be a consensus among experts that continual learning, continual re-careering, is part of our future,” Thomson added.
  • Episode Three, Changing Work, Changing Workers, directed by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Laurens Grant, takes a psychological and sociological look at the meaning of work. “Workers need and should have a lot more flexibility,” Grant said. “In an interesting way, mental health has taken on a greater importance,” she said.

The complementary six-part digital series, distributed through the PBS Voices YouTube channel, examines long-term employment trends for entry-level and early-career workers from rural, urban and suburban locations around the country.

“We focused on a diversity of stories so that we would be able to extend our reach and include a wider audience,” said Laurie Donnelly, co-executive producer of Future of Work.

“There are some really hard-working, committed young workers trying to find their way through our very complicated work landscape,” said Meredith Nierman, GBH digital executive producer, who oversaw the digital series with Tory Starr, GBH’s director of digital and social content innovation. “The opportunities that are available to them — and the ones that are enticing to them — will shape the future of our country in so many ways.”

Learn more here.