Labour market shocks are a significant threat to the European social and ecological environment. The manufacturing sector is one of the most worrisome with high labour shortages. In the face of such labour crises, there is a need for new approaches to build resilience into the sector. However, for new technologies in manufacturing to bring value for all stakeholders, they need to be human-centric. The FICTIONS lab will focus on tackling skill gaps and promote wellbeing at work through innovative approaches such as speculative design and lead cases.

Key Features

The lab is based in the northern part of Portugal, the most industrialised area in the country. The workers will be recruited from the company engineering and construction company Domingos da Silva Teixeira, S.A. (dst) and the lab activities will be led by Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS, a not-for-profit research centre on digital technology.

Main Challenges

Through a participatory approach, the lab will be addressing the following challenges related to skill gaps in industry and technological disruptions: 

  • Building capacity among industrial workers about emerging, cutting-edge technologies so that workers have agency in determining which features should technologies at work have. 
  • Engaging in speculative design with industrial workers that can produce future visions of how technologies should be designed and integrated into the workplace to tackle skill gaps and technology disruptions. 
  • Deliver speculative design representations (e.g. narratives, drawings, videos) emerging from the collaboration between researchers and manufacturing workers that can inform policy making. 
  • Experiment with a methodology of participation with lead users in the manufacturing sector to understand whether it can be recommended as a good practice in similar initiatives designed to build resilience into the sector.


The lab will focus on enhancing the capabilities of manufacturing workers in understanding emerging technologies, such as large language models and cobots. A subset of workers, identified as 'lead users', will undergo a prolonged engagement, a distinctive feature of this lab and crucial for innovation processes. Collaboratively, researchers and factory workers will envisage both probable and disruptive scenarios concerning the skill gap crisis. They will then undergo distinct training processes to experiment with emerging technologies aimed at addressing this challenge. Subsequently, they will jointly develop speculative designs to depict future technological interventions aimed at addressing skill gaps and promoting workplace well-being.

This innovative approach, incorporating lead users, experimental training, and speculative design, offers a fresh perspective on policy testing in domains where training and competency development are pivotal for capacity building. This approach has a high potential for expansion to other sectors of the economy and increase resilience of the labour market.