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The future of work is human – Deloitte

26 June 20190 comments

The dystopian image of jobs in the future being taken by robots, workers having dozens of different careers and disruption and change wrought by automation and artificial intelligence is a myth, according to a new report.

A new ‘insights’ paper by Deloitte Access Economics looks at the future of work in Australia and identifies opportunities to improve work, workers and workplaces that could see a $36 billion annual boost to the economy.

Titled ‘The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human’, the paper says improvements to future living standards rely on continued gains in productivity, and that means fostering creativity and innovation in the workplace.

“A big part of our productivity story will be about people,” the paper says.

“Yet there is a lot of anxiety about the future of work. Indeed, some question whether there is a future of work,” it says.

The paper argues that technology is not a substitute for people. Instead, it has the potential to make workforces more productive.

“While jobs are changing in nature because of automation, they will not disappear altogether. How we structure the future of work will say a lot about us as a society, and the decisions we make now will be a key driver of our economic success,” the paper says.

It seeks to bust some key myths.

“Robots won’t take your job. Technological change is accelerating and yet, unemployment rates in the United States are the lowest in half a century, in Europe they are at a decade low, and here in Australia they’re close to their lowest since 2012,” the paper says.

“Where new technologies do take effect, they generally create as many jobs as they kill. It’s just that the ones that they kill are easily spotted, while the ones they create are hiding in plain sight,” it says.

The paper also argues that people won’t spend their lives changing jobs.

“Australians are staying in their jobs longer than ever. In fact, 45 percent of workers have been with their current employer for more than five years,” it says.

“The gig economy isn’t taking over: casual jobs are a smaller share of all jobs than two decades ago, and that share hasn’t budged in over a decade and the rate of self-employment has been falling for almost half a century. It’s at a record low,” the paper says.

However the Deloitte researchers do say that in the future fewer people will be working in offices.

“More of us are working flexibly; an afternoon at home for school pick-ups, for example. But only one in every 25 workers worked remotely on Census day, even though almost one in five Australian employers now offers the ability for staff to work from home,” the paper says.

“That’s because physical proximity to other creative people is becoming more important, not less. Working together helps us collaborate and socialise, as well as giving us infrastructure and support. So the office is not going away any time soon,” it says.

The nature of work is changing though, the paper says.

It says today’s jobs are increasingly likely to require people to use their heads rather than their hands, a trend that has been playing out for a while.

And there is another factor at play in that less routine jobs that are harder to automate, and that is where employment has been growing.

The researchers found that women currently dominate the fastest growing jobs – the non-routine jobs of the head.

While men dominate the jobs most susceptible to automation – manual occupations involving repetitive tasks.

“The existing female workforce is in the right place at the right time to benefit from these changes. To meet the needs of the future, however, all employees will need to build skills and capabilities that have traditionally been more the domain of women,” the paper says.

It says interpersonal and creative roles will be hardest of all to mechanise.

The paper says that trend has decades to run. It says 86 percent of the jobs created between now and in 2030 will be knowledge-worker jobs.

By 2030, one quarter of Australia’s workforce will be professionals and most of these will be in business services, health, education or engineering; while two-thirds of jobs will be soft-skill intensive by 2030, the paper says.

It says that as the jobs we are doing will change, so too will the skills that we need to succeed in them.

“Employers are already demanding different skills so that workers can do the work of the head and heart. Some of these are well-known; for example, the growing demand for people with coding and programming skills. But the skills at the top of the ladder are human skills; like customer service, sales and resolving conflicts,” the paper says.

But these new trends are happening so fast they’re catching workers, businesses and governments by surprise, the paper says.

“At the start of this decade, the typical worker lacked 1.2 of the critical skills needed by employers seeking to fill a given position. Today, the average worker is missing around 2 of the 18 critical skills that are advertised for a job. And the gap is still growing, with far-and-away the bulk of those ‘missing skills’, those of the heart,” it says.

The researchers found 96 percent of jobs in Australia require time management and organisational skills, while 97 percent also need customer service skills and 70 percent require verbal communication skills.

Australian employers want 3 million more people with digital literacy skills than are available.

But that short supply is dwarfed by the severe shortage in customer service skills: employers need an extra 5.3 million workers with such skills.

“The underlying equation is pretty simple: change is accelerating, and Australia and Australians will be more prosperous and more fulfilled if we can get ahead of the game,” the paper says.

“Getting ahead of the game means refreshing everybody’s skills – not just those of today’s students. That’s why the future of work will require much more – and much better – on-the-job learning than Australia has today,” it says.

“In short, we are not facing a dystopian future of rising unemployment, aimless career paths and empty offices. Quite the opposite – we can use technology to our advantage to create more meaningful work. In doing so, our message in this report is simple: the future of work will be human,” the researchers said.