Most conversations on the Future of Work start with the fear that things change. We start a little differently. What if we accepted that work doesn’t work particularly well for many people now? What if we had the opportunity to change work in the future so it was better than it is today? Just maybe, this is our opportunity to get it more right.

And that’s how we looked at the newest research on the future of work in Australia which was published last week by the Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre (BCEC). Future of Work in Australia: Preparing for tomorrow’s world opens up a critical conversation about work that we are just not having. Work is changing. It no longer looks like it did when the Baby boomers joined the workforce and maybe that means rethinking a whole lot of things. So what are we going to do about it?

Deep  Dive into BCEC Future of Work Report

The way we work has been shaping societies for a really long time. We need only to look back to the agricultural and industrial revolutions to see how our patterns of work have emerged. Fast forward to 2018 and we’re still using that old 1860 way of working, but now we have very different opportunities.

Now, we’re front row in the digital revolution – this may be our biggest opportunity to change the way we work in 150 years. So what do we want our future work to look like? What kind of jobs and organisations can we prepare ourselves and our children for?

Let’s take a high level look at what the Report validates:

We’re no longer a manufacturing economy – we’re a service economy, with Health Care at the forefront of growth. Labour markets are changing faster than ever and that’s being driven by technology, changing industry structures and globalisation. We’re moving towards a convergence of women and men in the workplace, but the way we work is different – almost half of women work part-time (47%), men (18%).

People are worried about job security. They’re concerned about what their work will look like in the future. Wages growth remains stalled. Automation is impacting low skilled jobs first and foremost.

Upside to the Future 

But there’s a real upside to all of this, and a strong sense of optimism too.

The majority of us (60%) believe technology will bring more opportunities for the next generation of workers. People with high skilled jobs, people that have the option to work flexibly, and people who work for themselves or work at home are really positive about the future of work. And we know where the jobs are that are set to change, so we can start right now to find ways to help people in these roles transition to new jobs and industries. Education and lifelong learning are key to this, and learning is also changing fundamentally.

Now let’s get into what we see as the really big call outs in the Report:

Part time: The biggest trend around the future of work in Australia is our move to a part-time economy. It’s real and it’s happening quickly. It’s still heavily skewed towards women’s carers roles (30.1%), while men are more likely to be studying (29.6%) but here’s a reality check – more and more people, men and women, are choosing to work part time as a lifestyle preference. And that’s really about people having more power to choose the way they work (agency), and how technology reshapes the way we work and our engagement with it. The Report has two great graphs on who’s working part time and why (Fig 3 and Fig 6).

The prospect of a part time economy also means the under-employment wealth divide could increase really quickly, so as individuals and society more broadly, we need to think about how that could impact us and prepare for it.

Flexible work: Remote working (in this Report it’s telecommuting and working from home) is common and growing globally. In Australia, the majority of people working from home are Managers and Professionals, and this occupational group is growing, so working from home will probably increase. But in other occupations it’s not moving much at all – even in Clerical and Administration roles. The data tells us we have Managers and Professionals – whose job is to lead people – working from home, but people who could work on a computer anywhere are still office-based. Other occupations are more challenging. If your job doesn’t allow it – and there are plenty that don’t – we need to think differently about how those roles are structured. The graph on who regularly works from home (Fig 18) is worth a look.

What we don’t yet know is how the lack of boundaries around remote working which could negatively impact our lives. We don’t have the time-use data to shine a light on how much work infiltrates our personal lives and impacts wellbeing, but we think human interaction and finding ways to build connection between people and teams is more important than ever.

Gig economy: People talk about the ‘gig economy’ because we still don’t have a clear view on how many people are actually working in this way, or in multiple jobs, Estimates vary from around 6% to as much as 30% but the Report suggests it’s a the lowest end of this range. We think the prevalence of part time work is a much more important conversation in the context of how we plan for future workforces and ways of working.

Education: Given the significance of tech, and the pace and scale of change, what individuals, leaders and organisations can do right now is to elevate education and lifelong learning. It’s not a silver bullet but it’s absolutely essential to helping people, especially people in lower skilled jobs, walk bravely into the new world of work. Enabling continuous learning for people and setting up for changing roles in our workplaces will mean people have a better opportunity to keep their skills relevant, and to work in happier and healthier ways. The Employment growth by industry graph (Fig 11) gives a good steer on where the jobs will be and therefore what to train for.

Working with robots: In Australia we’re a bit behind other countries in this space but we’re catching up. Where automation is most prevalent is in low skilled jobs – so leaders and organisations need to work closely with the people whose roles will be affected, to help them transition into other jobs and/or industries where they can be meaningfully employed. This is especially true for regional Australia where the move away from manufacturing, for example, is already having a huge impact on people.

The Reality 

The reality is that humans will work alongside AI and VR and automation in the workplace of the future, so the onus is on us to work out how robots and assisted tech can help people to do better jobs, rather than replacing them – especially in our fastest growing industries like Health Care and Social Assistance. We’re seeing what that could like in Japan, where they’re trialling robots and aged care and childcare workers to deal with worker shortages. The robots are doing the mechanical tasks, freeing up the human workers to work more closely and personally with the children and elderly in their care.

As these conversations forward – and we think they’re great conversations that are so critically important –  the big question we’d love to see included looks beyond the most commonly asked questions about the future of work; Will I have a job?, and What will it look like?, to what we think is the crux of it: Will I work in a happier and healthier way?

To go deeper into the data and look at how it applies to your industry, read the Future of Work in Australia: Preparing for tomorrow’s world.

Article Written By Rosie Cartwright