What’s Up with the Future of Work?

There are countless opinions out there as to what’s going to happen in the future world of work, but the truth is, no one knows for sure. That said, we shouldn’t fear this unknown, or the change that is coming.

Though we are in a stage of massive transition, it pays to remember that humankind has seen multiple past waves of change like the Agricultural Revolution, the birth of mass production and the rise of computing.

All of these have destroyed some kinds of jobs while creating loads of new ones, and Artificial Intelligence and Automation are shaping up to be just like that.

They are, potentially, a very significant catalyst for change for particular types of jobs, but not something that will create a future work dystopia, or utopia for that matter.

Though the idea that robots and computers won’t take all the jobs is comforting, it doesn’t mean we should relax.

Previous changes have been great in the longer term but were certainly hard for many of the people impacted on the way through.

The significant period of technological change we’re in is regarded as the fourth industrial revolution, a term now interchanged with Industry 4.0, which was originally the German strategy to transform their manufacturing sector.

Technology is driving a business environment that is becoming all about adapting – and in the future we’ll need to innovate continuously to stay ahead of an ever-changing environment.

Considering all of this change, we are often asked what young people will need in the future world of work.

The simple answer is we can’t possibly know!

While “we don’t know” might not seem helpful on the face of it, the good news is that we do know enough about increasingly rapid technological advancements and the way they’re changing skills and work organisation to provide some insight into what people will need.

There is a well-documented need for a shift of mindsets for workers, employers, the education sector and governments to accommodate for the predicted jobs of the future.

While there may be a focus on the types of technology that produce jobs where specialised skills will be valuable, an underlying message is that foundation skills and broad new capabilities will become more important than ever.

That said, what we consider to be foundation skills is changing too. Where once they would have been considered to simply be language, literacy and numeracy, the foundation skills we need today have expanded considerably.

Foundation skills now include things like analytics, applications, network management, security and privacy, as well as stuff like creativity, problem solving, advanced reasoning, complex judgement, social interaction and emotional intelligence. All of these skills will become highly important in professional roles of the future.

In terms of the types of work we are likely to be doing, the OECD have reported that the share of high-skill jobs is significantly increasing while the share of low-skilled jobs is decreasing.

Companies now require a workforce which not only has expertise in particular disciplines and technologies, but also has a handle on team building capacity, emotional intelligence, strategic visioning, market analysis and cultural sensitivity.

Finally, contemporary industry requires working with highly technical and complex processes that give individual workers more autonomy and significantly more responsibility.

We used to have models of leadership focussed on rigid hierarchies of managers passing questions up and decisions down. As data collection and analysis tools improve through technology, less hierarchy is required. Individual professionals will have increased decision-making responsibility which challenges our concept of management – leadership will have to come from anyone, regardless of title.

It’s clear the jobs experiencing growth require workers with high-level thought and judgement, as was stressed in the Factory of the Future report, which says that a company can generate enormous amounts of data, but ultimately it must rely on people to make decisions.

Funnily enough, in a future that looks like a science fiction movie, human capital will be more important than ever.

A need for adaptable workers with broad skills has already begun to surface in Australian Industry.

For the last few years, Ai Group’s own employer surveys have shown that the greatest dissatisfaction businesses have with the employability skills of graduates is in self-management, problem solving and teamwork.

Education and training have been identified among the most critical factors shaping workforce outcomes in the future. New approaches to education, training, re-skilling and skills use will be key to maximising the benefits of digital and inclusive economies.

Education needs to reflect the workforce – fluid settings rather than traditional – using digital and offline platforms, collaborative spaces and project-based activities; there must increasingly be learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

David Guest first used the concept of a T-shaped graduate back in 1991. He was not talking about Ice-T or predicting future Rick and Morty storylines. He meant someone who has vertical skills – in-depth disciplines or knowledge specific to their area of activity; and who also develops horizontal skills and abilities that are not specific to one area and help make organisations work.

These include deep listening capabilities, an entrepreneurial spirit, and being able to communicate well. Though 1991 was some time ago now, Guest’s summary of the ideal graduate is still pretty much spot on.

In 10-20 years’ time when everybody’s job will have changed to some degree, the characteristics of agility, resilience and flexibility in professional graduates, as in all employees, will be the key to their success in organisations.

This will allow organisations to be adaptable and innovative, and to thrive in complex, unpredictable digital environments.

But, no one has a Crystal Ball…

No one has all the answers and we should be sceptical of anyone who suggests they do. We can’t possibly know with total certainty what skills are needed for the future.

That said, we do know enough to see that being adaptable and developing a diverse set of skills is likely to be the best way forward for anyone, regardless of age.

It used to be the norm to have one skillset and even one job for life. Let’s face it – that’s not the future. Change is the new normal.

Ai Group’s Rachael Wilkinson, (second from left) speaks at the Victorian Government’s Youth Summit in April, with (from left) MC Abe Nouk, Dr Josh Healy (Melbourne University) and Rose Steele (Young Workers Centre); Photo courtesy Victorian Government Youth Summit

I recently shared these thoughts with hundreds of young people at the Victorian Government’s Youth Summit and advised them to do their best to acquire diverse skills and to wring every droplet of opportunity, growth, and skill (no matter how obscure it may seem at the time) from whatever they are doing – whether it is a high school job, their education, or their early professional or trade roles.

Great skills can come from the most unlikely of places and lead us on paths we may never dream of as teenagers – particularly in a world where many kids born now will work in jobs that don’t currently exist.

If young people back themselves and keep a flexible mindset they’ll thrive, and if there is one thing the Youth Summit attendees showed me on the day, it is that they understand the challenge and they’re ready to do just that.

Read Rachael Wilkinson’s full Youth Summit Speech here

Read about the Next Generation in Standards and Regulatory Development here

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Rachael Wilkinson relocated from Western Australia to Victoria to join the policy team at Ai Group in 2017. Prior to Joining Ai Group she worked for the Fair Work Ombudsman, providing advice to the public on the Fair Work Act. She then spent time living in Vancouver (Canada) where she worked as an Appeal Coordinator, and volunteered with the homeless community.

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