Real World Futures

Jobs focus shifts to how to avoid disruption

Date: 31 January 2018

THE discussion about the future of work has shifted subtly in recent months – from the doomsday scenario of mass unemployment to the practicalities of how to reskill mass workforces to work with new technologies.

The shift is most apparent in a report commissioned by the World Economic Forum and released at its annual conference in Davos in January.

Towards a Reskilling Revolution was written by the Boston Consulting Group for the WEF which has made digital disruption and its impact on work its prime issue in the past two years.

A similar shift in thinking has come from one of the authors of the original research raising the alarm about the impact of technology on employment.

Associate Professor Michael Osborne of the Oxford-Martin School was co-author of an investigation published in the United Kingdom last year which found about 20% of jobs were at risk from technology disruption, a markdown on the estimate of 47% which has dominated public discussion since 2013.

Michael Osborne will rejoin QUT’s Real World Futures program at its first Real World Forum  in March to discuss his latest research which more intensively analyses employment data and allows for new jobs that will be created through other economic and social factors.

The future of work has become one of the world’s major economic issues and has continuously been on the horizon of the Real World Futures program since it launched in 2015.

The World Economic Forum (as have a succession of Real World Futures speakers) acknowledges the concern that workers without the highest technology skills will be left as machines take more of their jobs.

But it has also developed an approach which maps the skills path threatened workers can use to move into jobs less vulnerable to disruption.

It relies on using data to analyse the individual characteristics of jobs and then developing algorithms which show workers what skills and experience they need to move away from disruption and retain their incomes.

For instance: “Despite the magnitude of projected losses, secretaries and administrative assistants have 44 viable job transition opportunities which will see them retain their current wage or gain in wages, opportunities such as roles as insurance claims clerks or production, planning and expediting clerks. In the long term, those transitions can serve as stepping stones to even more lucrative opportunities such as roles in logistics.”

The WEF echoes every investigation done of future of work issues – “What will be required is nothing less than a societal mindset shift for people to become creative, curious, agile lifelong learners, comfortable with continuous change.”

Australian politicians are also starting to look seriously at the impact of disruption on the workforce.

A Senate Select Committee is currently taking submissions for an inquiry into the future of workers and the workforce.

Among the submissions already made public is that by the Australian Productivity Commission which believes many forecasts on the future of work are “too glum”.

It acknowledges a risk to wage inequality as more jobs arise in low paid sectors of the economy (eg care) but falls well short of the concept of a universal basic income, currently being trialled in some northern European economies.

It sides with the best hope being through a high quality education system.

“The commission’s most recent prognosis is that the school, VET and university system in not delivering the best student outcomes,” its submission says.

“Quite separate from the required rehabilitation of the system, some suggest that there is a much greater need for the encouragement of students to undertake courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“There seems little question that (some) STEM skills will play a clear role in developing and diffusing digital technologies, and in creating new job opportunities.

“However, the current labour market is not strongly receptive to STEM skills, as demonstrated by graduate outcomes for those that have studied STEM subjects. Understanding why the demand side for STEM skills is not strong in an economy increasing reliant on those skills is a paradox worth investigating.”

Content sourced from QUT News Web Service.

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