The Future of Work

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The way we work is changing, fast.

Automated systems are taking over many of the simple, repetitive tasks we used to give to low-skilled and entry level workers, which means those jobs are the ones that are disappearing. Other tasks that used to be done by highly trained and educated people are also being taken over by computers – lawyers no longer need to remember vast amounts of case law, and can simply use a database to search for what they need.

This process of automation and replacement isn’t new – it’s how we move forward as a society. For example, once upon a time washing machines didn’t exist, and people (mostly women) washed clothes by hand, which took forever. In some places, washing machines have replaced the task of manually washing clothes, which meant that those who made a living from washing clothes lost their work and had to find other employment.

In the same way, today’s technology is replacing tasks and displacing workers, who are now free to look for new tasks to take on.

Everyone wants a crystal ball – we want to be able to predict the jobs of the future before they come into being. This knowledge would theoretically help us prepare for the future of work, so we can position ourselves to take advantage of what’s coming.

When we take a long view, the pace of change appears incredibly fast – within our lifetimes, the way we live and work will change dramatically – but in ‘real-time’ things don’t seem to move quite so quickly. This means we have time to grow, change, and adapt as we move through our career, so long as we approach work with the expectation of change. What we know about the future of work is that we can’t predict exactly what’s coming, but that some skills will be more important than others.



Let’s look at what the experts tell us:

In the future, we’ll need to constantly learn and adapt

The OECD exists to “build better policies for better lives”, which basically means they work to influence policy around the world in ways that make life better for all of us, and their research has found that we can expect to learn new skills for work throughout our lives, and that we can’t rely on our employers to tell us when and where to learn. We need to become self-driven lifelong learners, or risk our skillset becoming obsolete.

The OECD have a great resource that explores the jobs of the future – check it out here.

AI and automation are driving change

But this doesn’t mean you need to learn how to build robots. The technology sector is growing rapidly, but some of the most in-demand jobs are not ones that require you to build technology – they’re jobs that need humans to interpret and control the technology. We need data analysts to make sense of the huge amount of data being collected – and I’m not talking social media, I’m thinking about people who can help us understand trends in healthcare and medical treatment for example. We need cyber security workers who know how hackers think, so they can protect our vital systems. And we need people who can match business with the right software to improve their practices.

Human skills are more valuable than technical skills

Employers know that it’s easier to train someone to operate a till than it is to train them to be polite to customers or turn up on time. This is reflected in the Australian Government’s Skills Priority List (it’s a long read, and there’s an easier summary here) which lists three groups of resilient occupations, all of which rely on human skills like communication, problem solving, and empathy. Technology can do a fair bit, but we still need other people to care for our elderly, teach our young, and manage our machines, which is why we expect there to be more jobs in healthcare, education, administration, and machinery operation than in other industries.

We want balance

Hybrid workplaces are on the rise, as companies realise that their workers will still get the job done as well (if not better) from home as they would in the office. Hybrid work, where people are able to spend one or more of their work days working from home, makes it easier for people to balance work with other responsibilities, like picking the kids up from school. Employers are becoming aware that employees are happier and more productive when they have the power to choose how and when they work, which should mean that the work of the future makes us happier.

On the flipside, people in low-skilled and low-paid jobs are less likely to be able to access hybrid or flexible workplaces.

The Jobs of the Future

Working with the Government’s list of resilient occupations, we predict these areas will be more likely to experience growth in the future, and provide you with a good chance of finding work in years to come:

Professional jobs, such as HR Managers, Financial Planners, Software Developers, and Sales Managers. These jobs require industry specific skills and knowledge, although not all of them require a university education. You’ll be using your skills and knowledge to help others work and manage their business, and will become a specialist in an area. Being open to innovation and new opportunities within your industry will further future-proof your career.

Health and social care jobs, such as nursing, social workers, speech pathologists, physiotherapists, childcare workers, and disability support workers are doing vital work that cannot be automated. We have an aging population and expect we will need more social and aged care workers into the future.

Education and training jobs, such as teachers, tutors, and industry trainers are expected to become more in demand, especially as we prioritise education as a society. According to the stats, around a quarter of all people in the industry are over 55 years, which means we expect even more jobs to open up as the older cohort retire.

Other industries which are growing include construction as we try to house our population, manufacturing jobs such as packing and production managers, retail and hospitality as we recover from the pandemic and open up, and farm workers who can understand and operate agricultural technology.

What this means for you

Expect the unexpected

While we can try to predict what the future of work will look like, the best we can do is expect the unexpected. Sometimes, the best opportunities are the ones you don’t expect, and being open to adjusting your plan can help you respond positively when things change (see the chaos theory of careers for more information).

Maximise your human skills

The next thing to think about is how you can maximise your ‘human’ skills. These are the skills you need to show up on time and get the job done, even when things go wrong.

Start by identifying where you are already strong – are you a great communicator, or do you prefer to solve problems? – then think about how these skills will be useful in a workplace. You can learn about the core skills and how they relate to jobs here.

Get comfortable with technology

It’s also clear that technology isn’t going away, and that being about to post to TikTok isn’t the same as being able to use technology in the workplace. Over the last decade we’ve seen less students studying senior digital technology subjects, but the skills you learn in these courses can help you understand the more complex technology you’ll need to use in the workplace.

Not all of us will need to be able to code, but you may need to know enough about technology and how it works to be able to incorporate new systems or integrate AI into your job, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with common technical terms and learn the basics of code so you won’t feel like a fish out of water in years to come.

Accept Lifelong Learning

I’m sorry, but the skills you are building now will be obsolete by the time you finish your career in 40 or 50 year’s time. Think about it; 50 years ago in the early 1970s there was no email, no laptop, no wifi, and no credit card. You sent letters, paid in cash in person, and typed on a typewriter. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll be doing things the same way in 2071 as we are today, so we’re going to need to learn along the way.

Don’t associate lifelong learning with school – they’re not the same thing. Adult learning means being able to identify when you need to gain a new skillset or expand your knowledge in an area, then finding a way to do that which fits into your life. Sometimes you may need to go back to formal study, but lifelong learning can also include learning from mentors, watching YouTube how-to videos, taking short courses and learning online.

Where to from here

Things have changed rapidly over the past few years, and it’s hard to predict exactly where we’ll end up. If you’d like to learn more about what the future may look like, and how it may impact your career, then start by checking out the government’s resources on workforce demand and labour market predictions – they have access to the latest data and it’s regularly updated.

That being said, you’ll need to make decisions about your career that will have long-term implications, and it’s not as simple as picking something at the top of the workforce shortage list. Think about how easy it could be to automate jobs in your preferred career path (check out Will Robots Take My Job?), and look at how your human skill strength areas line up with different professions.

Lastly, don’t let data about the future of work put you off if you’re certain of a career path – drive and determination and a willingness to learn will help you along the way.

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