Politics & Policies

Future of Work in Australia – A literature review

The impact of globalisation is expected to increase as digital technologies increasingly enable the movement of labour virtually (Baldwin, 2018). We are seeing teleworking becoming mainstream, the rise of the ‘digital nomad’ where a person can work from anywhere in the world, and contingent employment models (Roos and Shroff, 2017). These changes will influence where we work, how we work and when we work, with some commentators predicting the ‘rise of the individual’ who will drive future employment models (Deloitte, 2018, April 5; KPMG, 2013). Precarious work is perceived to be on the rise in Australia as the nation transitions to a services and knowledge-based economy. The industries experiencing the most employment growth are service industries which traditionally offer lower skilled, lower paid, part-time and casualised employment. Even in the professional, scientific and technical services sector, a high- skilled and high-wage employment sector, the rise of the gig economy is impacting the quality of work available (Australian Council of Trade Unions, 2018a).

It is often thought that the major driver of this change is the uptake of digital technologies.

Frey and Osborne (2013), with their focus on the impact of technology on jobs, forecast mass unemployment by 2030. Modelling was based on consideration of the impact of technology on whole jobs. More recent research recognises that a job is made up of a series of tasks requiring a range of skills. These studies highlight that the impact of technology is most likely to be at task level (Nedelkoska and Quintini, 2018; Bakhshi, Downing, Osborne and Schneider, 2017; Arntz, Zierhan and Gregory, 2016). Depending on the number of tasks that could potentially be automated, a small proportion of jobs may become obsolete. Importantly, however, all jobs will be impacted at some level and workers will need the skills gained through a lifelong learning mindset to meet changing job demands (AiG, 2016c).

It is important to remember that technology-driven change is not new. Predictions that technology will make humans redundant have been made since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s (Lawlor and Tovey, 2011; Boreham, Parker, Thompson and Hall, 2008). To date the predictions have not come true, and there is no evidence yet that this time will be any different. In the past, major technological advances have led to increased productivity and improved quality of life as dif cult and dangerous tasks were no longer performed by humans.

More recent research acknowledges that technology is not the only driver to impact the future of work. Society and demographics will also in uence the nature of work organisation and work arrangements in 2030 (Harris, Kimson and Schwedel, 2018).

In the last 100 years the global population has almost quadrupled (Goldin, 2016). Together with a proliferation of new technologies, these factors are driving changes in the economic and industrial composition of nations. Australia is not immune to these changes, as with many developed countries it is facing the impacts of:
• An ageing population (Balliester and Elsheikhi, 2018; Becker et al., 2015).
• Women entering the workforce in increasing numbers and who are better educated than at any other time in history (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018).
• Young people are staying in education longer and acquiring higher levels of education (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2017, November 6).
• Young people, indigenous Australians and people with disabilities experience high levels of underemployment and/or unemployment (OECD, 2018a; Lowe, 2018).
• Many people from migrant and refugee backgrounds are not having their skills recognised or fully utilised within employment (Deloitte Access Economics, 2018b).

While increasing longevity is currently perceived at times as a ‘problem’, it need not be
so. We are living longer, are healthier and are more engaged than previous generations, which opens up opportunities and challenges for everyone (Gratton and Scott, 2016). This changing demographic profile is seeing a growth in the proportion of people aged 65 and older remaining in the workforce and increased demand for services that cater to this older generation.

With the combination of an ageing existing workforce and the entrance of post-millenials from 2019, the world will – for the first time – see five generations in the workplace (Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers, 2018). This will bring greater diversity of age and experience to enterprises, driving the need to develop and utilise skills to manage and engage such diversity.

What does this all mean for employment and skills?

New technologies will change the skills that a person requires, either to remain employed within the same organisation, or to transition to new employment which may be in another industry. Increasingly, workers will require the skills needed to work collaboratively with technology and/ or to adjust to changing employment circumstances (AiG, 2016a).

These trends will drive the need for lifelong learning across the workforce regardless of age or time in the workforce. Continually evolving skill requirements and changing industry profiles within the economy will require institutions at all levels to consider ways to address potential economic and social inequality which may be exacerbated by geographical location, ethnicity and/or educational access.

Because people will be working longer (Gratton and Scott, 2016), educational institutions will need to meet the skills and training needs of a more age-diverse student cohort. Rapidly changing skills needs within enterprises will drive demand for access to modularised training that is delivered onsite to meet the needs of the enterprise.

Changing work environments and skills will pose a challenge to educational institutions. The demand for access to education and training throughout the life span will drive the need to consider alternate delivery models. This may be online by virtual classrooms, face-to-face outside of ‘normal’ delivery hours, onsite or a combination of methods. Already we are seeing the increasing uptake of massive open online courses (MOOCs) which offer the learner opportunities to undertake, often for free, short courses specific to their interest.

What can we do to address change and prepare for the future of work?

Possibilities include utilising policy, regulation and our social institutions.

This literature review presents a range of thinking on the future of work to sharpen our collective focus, identify opportunities for the future workplace and consider the implications on employment and skills policy in Queensland.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Future of work: literature review


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