For almost all of us, they are more than a source of income, extending to the provision of opportunities for social interaction; a source of self-esteem; or a feeling of contribution to a profession or community.
From an economy-wide viewpoint, growing employment rates and higher labour market participation are primary sources of improved living standards along with the increasing skills and capabilities of workers. Encouraging labour market participation, skills formation and supporting a well-functioning labour market are vital steps that governments can take to ensure that society can maintain or improve its standard of living, particularly in the context of an ageing population.
But labour markets do not stand still.
Occupations, skills and jobs come … and they go. More than a century ago, lamplighters, icemen, and telegraph operators fell into decline. In the middle of the last century, dunny men and bread delivery vans started to disappear. Towards the end of the century, switchboard operators, typists and TV repairmen became rarer and rarer. Travel agents, bank tellers and supermarket cashiers still exist as occupations, but opportunities in these occupations are diminishing.
• Technological advances will create new job opportunities but will also displace some jobs, including occupations previously considered ‘irreplaceable’. If the education system, and those in or entering the workforce, are not responsive to changing skill needs, there is a risk of higher unemployment, underemployment and lower earning prospects, which in turn are likely to reduce engagement in the labour market.
• Improving the employability of workers through upskilling and retraining is a necessary response to the combined effect of an ageing workforce and technological change. However, negative stereotypes and myths about older workers’ abilities and their willingness to learn new skills create barriers to training opportunities. These need to be addressed if the economy is to benefit from their skills and experience through greater participation in the labour market.
• There are no easy ways of ensuring that the current workforce has the relevant skills, particularly given the uncertainty about the effect of technology on the usefulness of existing skills and occupations. However, a number of the reforms canvassed in chapter 3 of the main report will reduce barriers and assist people to upskill and retrain, including:
− ensuring the schooling system delivers strong foundations not only helps with jobs and income prospects of young people, but also provides a strong basis for education and training throughout life
− establishing an independent system that enables recognition of, and trust in, new ways of acquiring knowledge and skills that may stimulate further upskilling and retraining. The lower costs and greater flexibility of these new approaches may be particularly relevant for people who have existing job and family commitments
− introducing graded assessment may assist future learning pathways for students wanting to upgrade their VET qualification to a university degree.
• In addition, consolidation of the growing number of government websites to assist people considering particular occupations and looking to undertake training should make it easier to navigate for the end user. Some of these users may be workers who have not had much contact with the education and training system for a number of years.
• The investment approach to welfare reform used for young adults at greater risk of welfare dependency may also have lessons for the development of employment and skill initiatives focused on older cohorts at high risk of losing their jobs due to structural adjustment.
• There are a range of other initiatives used internationally, such as career advice, learning accounts and tax incentives, that may have merit. However, the rationale, objective, policy design, effectiveness and costs of such measure should be carefully examined prior to their introduction.