The future of work: what is it and how do we prepare?
Associate Professor in Organisational Studies, Management and Marketing Susan Ainsworth, Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, Leah Ruppanner, and Dr Andi Pekarek, Lecturer in Human Resource Management (HRM) in the Department of Management and Marketing, share their expertise to help us understand where the world of work is heading and what needs to happen to ensure it benefits everyone.
Technological breakthroughs, a changing demographic, rapid urbanisation, shifts in global economic power, resource scarcity and climate change are currently reshaping society as we know it (PWC, 2017).
These megatrends are impacting not only how we live, but also the type and availability of jobs, our working conditions and the way work is performed.
The complexity of these competing forces – how they converge, the speed of change, our human response – means “predictions about the future of work are inherently uncertain”, says Dr Andi Pekarek, Lecturer in Human Resource Management (HRM). But there are trends around the impact they are having that provide context for understanding what the future of work “might, could, or should” be.
As Associate Professor in Organisational Studies, Management and Marketing Susan Ainsworth points out: "It's important to separate out the potential impact from how it is actually being taken up, because they're two separate things.”
Technology, the gig economy and workforce diversity
The biggest influencer is technology. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation, as well as big data and analytics, are impacting the nature and number of jobs available, how organisations operate and the way the labour market is organised.
While finance, information technology and media have the highest level of digital potential, all sectors are embedding new technologies into their operations. Orders of industrial robots increased threefold in a decade and are projected to double by 2020, and private equity investment in AI doubled over the past year (OECD, 2019).
Whether this leads to a decrease or increase in jobs, however, is less certain, says Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, Leah Ruppanner.
The OECD Employment Outlook 2019: The Future of Work predicts 14 per cent of existing jobs could disappear as a result of automation in the next 15 to 20 years, while another 32 per cent are likely to change radically as individual tasks are automated (OECD, 2019). There are also strong arguments that increased demand for new roles will offset the decreasing demand for others (WEF, 2018).
In terms of which jobs are vulnerable, labour markets around the world are showing ‘job polarisation’: a decline in the share of middle-skill, middle-wage jobs involving routine, easily automated tasks (such as administrative work in offices, production roles in factories, program administrators, bank staff and accounting clerks), while high and low-skill jobs increase, says Dr Pekarek.
But many experts suggest we should be focusing on the level of tasks within jobs. This better indicates the nuanced impact technology will have, and the shift towards a skills-based labour market as a result (Lu, J. 2019).
As technologies advance and work moves in the direction of automation and AI, people’s job descriptions will change and they’ll need new (and frequently updated) technical skills and digital competencies, such as information and data literacy.
Human skills will be most important though. Conceptualised in the MIT J-WEL Human Skills Matrix (HSX) as thinking, leading, interacting and managing ourselves, human – or soft – skills will serve as the binding agents to the ever-changing list of required technical skills (Evollution, 2020)