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  • Future Hopes: Workplaces (Public domain)Source: Public domain
The rise of computerisation, automation, teleworking and zero hours contracts are all predicted to have profound effects upon Australia's future workforce. With China's slowing economy and increasing global uncertainty, what will Australia's workplace look like in the future?
Marcia de los Santos / SBS Radio

21 Sep 2015 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 22 Sep 2015 - 9:24 AM


The Committee for Economic Development of Australia has revealed that up to five million jobs are likely to disappear by 2030 as a direct result of advancements in technology.

The rise of computerisation, automation, teleworking and zero hours contracts are all predicted to have profound effects upon Australia's future workforce.

With China's slowing economy and increasing global uncertainty, what will Australia's workplace look like in the future?

Marcia De Los Santos reports.

We're living in a world few could have imagined half a century ago.

Predicting what lies ahead for Australian workers can seem impossible, since the future for most people remains largely unknown.

But one thing is certain; technological development will reshape the workplace of tomorrow.

In a major research report released in 2015, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) revealed that by 2030, forty-per cent of today's jobs will disappear.

Sixty-per cent of those losses are likely to occur in regional Australia.

The head of CEDA, Professor Stephen Martin says that job losses will continue due to the unprecedented "digital revolution".

"The simple fact is we are facing now, a new computerized industrial revolution the likes of which the world has never seen before and advances are being made so quickly in areas of computerization and substitution of labour by machines that many of the traditional jobs as we currently know them will simply disappear and as a consequence public policy has to be directed to thinking about firstly, what are the jobs of the future."

Futurist and digital expert Chris Riddell believes around 60 per cent of the best jobs in the next decade haven't been invented yet.

"So one of the jobs that we are actually going to be seeing, is a digital desk manager. People are really getting concerned now about what kind of footprint they are going to leave in the world. So digital desk managers are going to be people that actually look at how to clean up the footprint that you've left behind and make sure that you're happy. Digital detox therapist. This is another really interesting job. We are addicted to the world of online and digital at the moment and these digital detox therapists will actually be able to separate technology stressed individuals from our devices."

Chris Riddell says privacy protection will also create new jobs.

"With all of this information that we're sharing online and social media, or email or loyalty programs, privacy is a really, really big topic now and privacy consultants are something I think we're going to see very, very shortly. With all this data that we are putting online how do you know how to protect your identity and these specialists will do that for you and make sure that you're not vulnerable."

Demographer and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University Business School Bernard Salt, says many new jobs will require advanced STEM skills.

"Well the jobs of the future I think are technical jobs based around science, technology, engineering, computing. All those technical jobs requiring the STEM subjects at university and at secondary school; Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and I would also add another one, entrepreneurialism. In fact, I wouldn't call it STEM I'd call it STEEM"

Professor Salt believes as Australia moves closer to a highly mobile and digital economy, jobs in health care and social services will surge.

"There's another set of jobs that are expanding and I would call those the caring jobs. Health care, social welfare, youth worker, personal care. One of the fastest growing jobs would be being a nanny or a fitness instructor, or being a manicurist, anything that helps the individual manage their life is also expanding over recent years."

The head of CEDA, Professor Stephen Martin is predicting a major transformation in the transport industry.
He says driverless vehicles, with the capacity to replicate human activity, are already changing the face of the workforce in some industries.

"If you look at Western Australia and the mining industry a lot of what happens there is in fact being guided by computers out of Perth. So if you go to the Pilbara there's already the driverless trucks that are being developed, again being controlled out of Perth. We know that Google has developed a driverless car. You're talking about a car that is programmed by a computer to go from A to B at a certain speed and so on. We know that the major companies that do produce cars around the globe are looking at that as an option as well."

A report by the Foundation of Young Australians revealed the digital age will also rapidly transform traditional professions such as accounting, law and education.

F-Y-A chief executive Jan Owen says these professions won't disappear but will require a new set of skills for the future.

"The best advice that you can give to a fifteen year old today is to think about the fact that fifty per cent of the jobs of the future are going to require some kind of digital skill set. So even if you're thinking about studying one of these more traditional professions you will want to add alongside that some kind of digital learning or technology that can give you an edge. But you'll get general capabilities out of any course that you study. It's more; what do you need to augment it with to really be able to find a job in the future?"

Futurist Chris Riddell claims fundamental changes are ahead for most work environments across Australia.

"In the office space to begin with, we're going to see a lot more frictionless, passive technology and what this means is technology is going to be embedded all around us and it will be more wireless. And we'll be interacting with a lot of these devices by touch and gesture, so this is really going to change how we behave in the office. And automation is going to be a huge part around technology making decisions for us, even going ahead without us even having to be involved."

Professor Bernard Salt says that by the 2020's Australian workers will have more control over when and where they work.

He says with more freedom around time workers will be able to adopt quality lifestyle changes.

"You could be living in a tree-change town or a sea-change town or out in the desert, but you could still, through global universal connectivity, perhaps through the role out of the NBN, complete your work, complete your KPI's. So you might work at home in your study then you might pop into the office and then you'll time shift. Rather than the idea of, commuting to the city, working 9 to 5 and then commuting back home. That is a very old-fashioned, twentieth century if not 19th century model of how to work. The narrative in the twenty first century involves time shifting and shuffling where work is fitted in to someone's preferred lifestyle, rather than forcing people to adjust their lifestyle around the hours of work."

He also argues that quality of life is likely to improve for many workers with less time spent commuting.

'What I actually think will happen is that the secondary offices around the CBD will effectively be decentralized to places like Parramatta and Blacktown, to Box Hill to Dandenong to Mount Gravatt to Chirnside. These are key regional centres in the suburbs, allowing people to live, work, play, recreate, go to University, go to hospital and go to work within their local area."

As technology transforms workplaces, Bernard Salt predicts established global business hubs are likely to face tough international competition.

"I do think that the centre of gravity of global business is shifting. It was in London and shifted to New York, but I think it's shifting closer to say Hong Kong, Shanghai, maybe Singapore, maybe Sydney. The centre of gravity of world business is coming to our time zone. So I think we'll start to see a greater connectivity, most like a circular movement where young Australians go up to Hong Kong and then back to Sydney, back to Melbourne and so this circle of gaining experience not necessarily in London or New York but within the region."

He believes being multilingual will become an increasingly sought after skill in global business.

"If you think about the Americans for example, many Americans certainly on the west coast but increasingly on the east coast will be able to make themselves understood in Spanish. Many Americans are effectively bilingual and I think the same thing applies in Asia where the second language, in addition to English, of course would be Mandarin. So being able to speak Mandarin, being able to speak Spanish as well as English, I think  would certainly be an advantage for any young Australian looking to make their way in business in this region, over the next 20 or 30 years."

Futurist Chris Riddell says Australian businesses will offer new types of work arrangements, similar to those currently being modelled overseas.

"I think what we're going to see going ahead is this change to more zero hour contracts. They're already actually pretty popular in Europe and the USA. You have a contract with a particular company to do work with them but there is no set number of hours that are already pre-locked in, you'll do it on a week by week basis, so as you're needed. So what this means for us as individuals in the future is we're going to have much more of a consulting or freelance type industry, where people will work for multiple businesses and bringing their skills to multiple organizations and having the opportunity to choose which companies you want to work in and out of. And I think that's probably one of the most fundamental changes that we're going to see and that's quite a big mindset shift."

He says, data on work mobility suggests that job opportunity will become more important than job security.

"The other thing that's really fascinating around the future of work is the statistics and data are telling us that people will actually change their career three or four times during their lifetime. So not just changing jobs or the company you're working for but actually changing your career entirely three or four times and that trend absolutely will be hitting us quite soon if not already for many of us."

Amid these major changes, Professor Stephen Martin suggests Australia needs to focus on current economic indicators.

He says, with jobs disappearing in agriculture, manufacturing and mining, workers' expectations will need to be revised.

"You can't get away from the fact that Australia is economically adjusting at a rapid rate. We have to recognize that China's economic policies have slowed down dramatically, investment in the mining industry and resources generally have slowed down, the unemployment rate is going up as we see some of the more traditional industries in Australia slow down, so we're going to have to be always aware that the sorts of jobs of the future may in fact have greater casualization and it might mean a lot more working from home."

Professor Martin says Australia needs to formulate good public policy to guide the evolving workforce.

" I think we're seeing the argument again about how long people need to work, we've seen a lifting in the retirement age being proposed or you see arguments about increasing leisure times but people of course have to sustain a living  and the standards of living in Australia , where sadly at the moment unemployment numbers are going up because of this fundamental economic restructuring that's going on, we have to look at the ways in which we can turn computer technology to our benefit  and again it goes back to the fundamentals about education and training, skilling, identifying jobs to support the future, government industry working together. This will see a very prosperous Australia but it's going to take a lot of hard work and I think we've got to be prepared to do that."

Futurist Chris Riddell says with jobs such as network engineering on the increase, we can't afford to be fearful of the future.

"The truth is that there will always be jobs out there it's just a case of re-skilling and understanding how you need to adapt for the future. Getting comfortable that things are changing. You've got to be able to embrace change as a human being and if you think that you can stand the ground and hope that everything will be okay then the chances are the majority of people will really struggle going ahead. And as humans, we're naturally resistant to change and the challenge for us is being open to change and really opening our minds to being flexible and looking at the opportunities ahead."