Digital Transformation of the Labour Market: Intermediaries, Infrastructure, and Institutional Change

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


The digitalisation of work has not only caused significant changes in the range of jobs that are accessible through the labour market, but also in the methods and practices by which these jobs are mediated. Digital labour market intermediaries transform the procedures on the labour market: online job boards (e.g. Monster, Stepstone) facilitate job searches, crowdworking platforms (e.g. Upwork, Twago) organise global employment relationships for the self-employed, online professional networks (e.g. LinkedIn, Xing) open up a wide range of opportunities for employees and employers to make contact.

The conventional private labour market intermediaries, especially temporary staffing agencies and executive search firms, are increasingly reacting to this development by offering their own digital services. The combination of digitalisation strategies with the flexibilisation interests of intermediary companies in the employment industry poses significant challenges for the established institutions on the labour market.

Research question

Numerous models of digital platforms have emerged that support recruitment processes or organise freelance work and thus compete with the established protagonists and institutions of the labour market. Research will be conducted on the interplay between the strategies used by these intermediary organizations, the ways in which digital infrastructure operates and the institutional framework conditions on the labour market. The objectives of the project are to empirically map this change process and to interpret its transformative potential from a socio-analytical perspective.

On the one hand, the analysis will focus on the relationship between the identified digitalisation strategies and the efforts to flexibilise and deregulate labour markets, which have long been pursued by the global employment industry. On the other hand, the project will look into the impact the digital transformation of intermediation processes has on the prevailing institutional structure (especially public employment services, industrial relations, education and social policy).


Using qualitative methods (especially expert interviews and document analyses), the empirical analysis will include case studies of intermediaries and development scenarios for digital infrastructure. The first stage of the study involves a discourse analysis of the strategic frameworks of the global employment industry for the flexibilisation and digital transformation of the labour market. The second phase comprises case studies on the digitalization strategies of traditional and digital intermediaries, which provide an overall picture of the transformation process.

In the third stage, in-depth empirical inquiries will be used to draw up basic development scenarios for the digital infrastructure. On this basis, interpretations of the institutional consequences of the digital transformation can be developed and discussed with experts in the field. The theoretical framework will involve socio-analytical concepts of platforms and their intermediary functions, which can be found across the sociology of labour, the sociology of technology and economic sociology.

Prof. Dr. Hans J. Pongratz
Project lead

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Institut für Soziologie

+49 89 - 2180-9884

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