With shifts in technology, society and the environment impacting the workforce like never before, the future of work seems increasingly uncertain. ADC’s Penny Craswell reads up on the latest research and analysis predicting the future of work.

 None of us really knows what the workforce – or the world – will be like in 2030, but we can make some educated guesses based on emerging technologies and social trends. Several reports offer in-depth analysis of trends around the topic. The Foundation for Young Australians has published a number of papers between 2015 and 2018 called The New Work Order report series. The New Work Mindset, published in 2017, offered an analysis of more than 2.7 million job advertisements to reveal more than 1000 different occupations in Australia and seven job clusters.

These are:

  • The Generators cluster – require a high level of interpersonal interaction e.g. retail, sales, hospitality and entertainment
  • The Coordinators cluster – involve administrative, behind-the-scenes processes
  • The Informers cluster – providing information, education or business services
  • The Carers cluster – improve the mental or physical health or wellbeing of others
  • The Artisans cluster – require skill in manual tasks related to construction, production or maintenance
  • The Designers cluster – deploying skills and knowledge of science, mathematics and design to engineer new products or buildings
  • The Technologists cluster – require skilled understanding and manipulation of digital technology1

This report recommends that, rather than asking a young person, what is your ‘dream job’, it may be more useful to ask what is your ‘dream job cluster’? Skill acquired from one job are also ‘portable’ to 14 other jobs, on average. 

But how does that translate to the real world? The Foundation for Young Australians’ latest report, The New Work Reality, follows the journeys of 14,000 young people over a decade. It shows that the transition for young people from full-time education to full-time work is increasingly uncertain. It also shows that young people who choose employment with a ‘strong future focus’ can speed up the transition to full time work by five months. Three clusters of jobs were shown to be more future focussed: The Informers, The Carers and The Technologists.2 The research shows that young people who chose work within these clusters transitioned faster. 

Another report looks at plausible futures for jobs and employment markets in Australian in the coming 20 years. Tomorrow’s Digitally-Enabled Workforce by CSIRO posits that the narrative of the future is based on a structured process of strategic foresight which identifies a range of megatrends.3 One identified megatrend that makes predicting the future of work difficult is that computer power is increasing exponentially, with an explosion in device connectivity, data volumes and computing speed, combined with rapid advances in automated systems and artificial intelligence. This means that robotic devices and computational systems ‘can perform tasks quicker, more safely and more efficiently than humans’.4 Other megatrends identified in the report include the growth of the Internet of Things, flat organisational structures, the growth in portfolio workers (who freelance for several employers), low cost digital entrepreneurism and increased female participation, as well as a number of other factors. 

Also identifying megatrends is the Workforce of the Future report by PwC. Drawing data from a survey of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US, this piece of global research identifies megatrends in society and the workforce – ‘the economic shifts that are redistributing power, wealth, competition and opportunity around the globe’ – as: 1) technological breakthroughs 2) demographic shifts 3) rapid urbanisation 4) shifts in global economic power and 5) resource scarcity and climate change.5 Interestingly, this report also divides the future world of work into four segments – ‘The Yellow World’ where humans come first with high fragmentation and collectivism, ‘The Red World’ where innovation rules with high fragmentation and individualism, ‘The Green World’ where companies care with high integration and individualism and ‘The Blue World’ where corporate is king with high integration and individualism. This fascinating take accounts for two polarising concepts in society, with one scale tracking ethical collective thinking vs individualism, and another scale tracking the fragmentation of business vs integration and big business. Seen in this light, the future of work is not monolithic but can be tracked along four separate but interconnected streams. 

But, whether our work is corporate or fragmented, collective or individualistic in 2030, there’s no question that technology will be at the centre of the new workforce, driving change. The Future of Work report, published by the Regional Australia Institute and NBN, specifically looks at how jobs will change by 2030, with a focus on regional Australia, arguing that low-skilled repetitive tasks and even some medium and high-skill tasks will be replaced with automation, but that new jobs will be created around technical specialisations, and also around high touch, education and carer activities. It states that kids will need a mix of ‘high tech jobs’ (or ‘nerdy digital’ skills) and ‘high touch jobs’ (‘soft personal’ skills). When it comes to regional areas, the report states that ‘The future of work will rely on local areas building their innovative capacity and digital readiness to be places that house future jobs.’6

 In Sydney, an analysis of floor space and employment in the city provides insights into the built form, land uses and economic activity. The City of Sydney’s ‘Floor space and employment survey’ collected data on all business, floor space uses and employment numbers for every building or property in the City of Sydney local area. The results for the CBD and Harbour area (encompassing Sydney, Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks), show that, since the previous survey in 2012, the sectors with the largest growth in worker numbers were finance, professional and business services and property development and operation. The sector with the largest decline in worker numbers was food and drink.7 This local snapshot shows just how much the professional, knowledge worker jobs are growing in the city centres. 

Globally, the World Economic Report recently released its own report, The Future of Jobs Report. As well as providing Country and Region profiles, the findings elucidate workforce trends and strategies as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It sees these monumental changes as opportunities for economic prosperity, while acknowledging that they ‘depend crucially on the ability of all concerned stakeholders to instigate reform in education and training systems, labour market policies, business approaches to developing skills, employment arrangements and existing social contracts.’8 The report divides job roles into three categories – stable roles, new roles and redundant roles, offering percentage of these in 2018 and in 2022 (predicted) and listing dozens of roles in each category as well.

These include:

  • Stable roles: Managing Directors and Chief Executives, Supply Chain and Logistics Specialists, University and Higher Education Teachers, Robotics Specialists and Engineers
  • New Roles: AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Big Data Specialists, User Experience and Human-Machine Interaction Designers, Robotics Specialists and Engineers
  • Redundant Roles: Data Entry Clerks, Assembly and Factory Workers, Postal Service Clerks, Telemarketers, Bank Tellers and Related Clerks, Statistical, Finance and Insurance Clerks9

This report also highlights the vital importance of reskilling, with some shifts in the workforce displacing some workers while creating new opportunities for others. Companies will need to undertake a series of organisational strategies to adapt to the rapidly changing skills requirements.

Overall, the outlook seems positive, with growth in technological and knowledge-worker roles offering adequate replacements for job losses sustained due to automation replacing low-skilled workers. What’s vital is that workers are agile and flexible enough to adapt to the new needs of the labour market.

[1] The New Work Mindset (2017), Foundation for Young Australians

[2] The New Work Reality (2018), Foundation for Young Australians

[3] Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce: Megatrends and scenarios for jobs and employment in Australia over the coming twenty years (2016) CSIRO, Brisbane

 [4] Ibid. 

[5] Workforce of the Future Report: The competing forces shaping 2030 (2018), PwC
https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/people-organisation/workforce-of-the-future/workforce-of-the-future-the-competing-forces-shaping-2030-pwc.pdf, p.6

 [6] The Future of Work: Setting Kids Up for Success (2016), Regional Australia Institute and NBN

 [7] Floor space and employment survey, CBD and Harbour, City of Sydney (2017)

 [8] The Future of Jobs Report (2018) World Economic Report

 [9] Ibid.

Penny Craswell

Penny Craswell is Creative Strategy Associate at the Australian Design Centre, where she is engaged primarily with planning the forward program, exhibitions, public programs and other activities across a range of design and craft disciplines. She was co-curator of ADC exhibition Obsessed: Compelled to make, which is currently touring Australia and is also Co-Director of Sydney Craft Week, an annual ten-day festival produced by ADC.


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