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How Bright is the Future of Work?

June 7, 2017


I recently attended a seminar called "The Future of Work - is Capitalism Dead?" which provided a fascinating insight into what the jobs of today may morph into in coming years, how this change will impact on educational curriculums and what the concept of work might mean to us in future.


We often talk about technology from a product perspective - the date of the next iPhone release, the cool ways we'll get to use artificial intelligence in future, whether we'll be able to hop into a self-driving car anytime soon, yet we seem to hear and talk a lot less about what types of jobs will actually be available for us all in future. The panel featured a senior social scientist, a self-described "education futurist," an entrepreneur and a university professor. These were some of the highlights: 


We're only just getting started

The world's digital transformation is only just kicking off - meaning from a technology perspective we're very much at the tip of the iceberg. Those of us who have witnessed records, cassettes, CDs, MP3s and online streaming have a long, long way to go yet and we can rest assured there is going to be constant technological disruption in all industries over the coming years. If companies and individuals are not yet on the digital train, now's the time to jump onboard or risk getting completely left behind. 


Automation is coming

Research from Oxford University apparently shows up to 47% of current jobs will be automated in future. The benefits of this include people having extra time to focus on other things, the opportunity to work less, the chance to work on a wider variety of projects, and the ability to use their extra time to participate more in community activities like volunteering. Automation will also mean some types of work will become more accessible to more people, with an example shared being elderly people, who may have increasing opportunities to utilise technology to take on flexible, casual work projects from home. 


Enterprise skills are going to be needed

Jobs of the future are going to require enterprise skills such as empathy, critical thinking, creativity, initiative, leadership, problem-solving and communication. Some of these new jobs combined with different skill requirements may make the job market more accessible for people who find it challenging currently to find employment. A specific example listed during the presentation was people with autism, who the panel suggested may be very well suited and utilised in the future job market, and who may find the types of work available more aligned to their preferences and strengths than some jobs might be currently.


Just in case versus just in time learning

Education of the future will need to focus heavily on ensuring students are equipped to adapt to the job market's changing requirements and opportunities. Students will need to spend a lot more time in practical workplace and life scenarios to build up their enterprise skills rather than attending lectures and classes. 


STEM skills on the decrease

There's a big focus on students needing to learn to code at the moment, and many educational and corporate organisations have developed coding programs in response to the demand for talent in the market. The panel discussed the fact there are already businesses using artificial intelligence to code without the need for developers - and said the current generation of primary school students learning to code should expect to find jobs (and existing developers should be "fine"), but they didn't believe there was much point in continuing to focus on this requirement with new students entering school - and suggested these skills won't be in as high demand in future. 


Explore the jungle gym instead of following a set path

Traditional career paths will be a thing of the past, with teenagers today expected to hold 17 jobs across five different industries throughout their career. This reflects the jungle gym Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean In , with her famously saying  "careers are a jungle gym not a ladder". These days it's much more common (and expected) for people to move between different roles, and the best employers are learning they need to embrace this and allow people to explore different jobs within organisations whilst enabling them to develop their enterprise skills.


Future Job Demands

  • Healthcare and aged care - with a growing population living longer, technology will enhance parts of these industries (such as robotic surgery), however there is expected to be increasing demand across this industry

  • Education - with curriculums needing to rapidly shift to meet changing demands and ensure everyone in the workforce is constantly up-skilling, the panel predicted there will be more need for teachers and the barrier to entry for education courses will be raised, with the best and brightest students likely to pursue teaching as a career

  • Sales and customer service - as the panel didn't believe we would be ready to buy products from robots for a very long time...

  • People who are able to design and shape technology - to ensure it is created both in response to society's needs, and proactively to create future opportunities

  • Creativity - as this isn't something currently able to be replicated by robots (there are, however, studies being carried out currently to attempt to measure peoples' "Imaginative Quotient" to work out what the unique traits of imaginative people are)


We have the ability to shape the future

Instead of being afraid of technology and how it's going to impact us, we have the chance to think about what sort of world we want to live in. A wonderful example given about the benefits of technology was how people with dementia will be able to remain in their own homes longer. Technology will be able to remind them to take their medication, to tell them if they've left the stovetop on, to phone family members at scheduled times to check in and drive them around to run errands. There's also an opportunity to re-think what work actually is, make a contribution to our futures and work with technology to design the world the way we'd like it to be in future.


Let's stay tuned....


Sian Havard is Founder at Milkshake Group, a Brisbane, Australia based consultancy which partners with startups wanting world-class talent strategies, and coaches people looking for awesome careers. Find her at



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