Real World Futures

Work change gets focus

Date: 23 March 2018

A group of Australian legislators has turned unprecedented attention on the future of work, a core topic of the Real World Futures program for the past three years.

A Senate Select Committee has been gathering evidence on what technology will do to work through submissions and public hearings around the country.  The participants include Australia’s biggest employer groups and trade unions and the businesses credited with most disrupting current work practices.

A number of universities, including QUT, have also participated.

The Real World Futures team has been keeping track of the submissions and prepared a summary of them in an e-booklet now published on our site.

The major business organisations use their submissions to echo their calls for industrial relations reforms but one of them, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, cites figures which show how quickly things will change.  It relies on projections from the computer chip manufacturer, Intel, which points out that the world had 2 billion smart devices (i.e. connected to the internet) in 2006, 15 billion in 2015 and will likely have 200 billion by 2020.

Many of them will be gathering data and performing functions that impact on human work. The mining industry reports that 29% of its businesses are working on how to bring robots into their operations and 27% are looking at drones. Seventy percent are exploring how they operate mines remotely from their often unattractive locations.

The manufacturing industry sees benefits for Australia – in that technology takes away the competitive disadvantage it suffers in labour costs, a view that doesn’t help direct employment in manufacturing but creates other opportunities.

The pressing issue in this is how we prepare for these changes – what skills will matter.

There is a consistent view across the groups the Senate committee is hearing from that the worker of the future will need technical skills but will be most likely succeed if they are complemented by creative problem solving ability, strong communication and flexibility for fresh learning.

The threat isn’t just new technology but the business models it creates. In many industries, the efficiency of those models is already damaging old businesses and the employment within them – newspapers, photography and retailing are the standout examples.

The so-called platform businesses – Uber and Airbnb are the standout examples – which provide a marketplace for anyone to sell their idle assets are the ones most people look at. They use the forum of the Senate inquiry to paint themselves as a solution to the problem, pointing out that they are an immediate alternative for those who lose their work from other disruptive technologies.

But back to skills: One worrying sign is research by the Australian jobs aggregator Seek.com.au which asked people how they would prepare for the future.  On-the-job training was the most popular answer but one-in-five people didn’t know. This might not be an issue if we value the view of the human resources professionals who are tasked with planning the workforces of big businesses.

While many understand the implications of the technological shift, almost 9 in 10 of Australian Human Resources Institute members – those who are paid to plan future workforce needs - think the risk is more than a decade away.

QUT is among the submitters to the inquiry. It takes the view that technological change is happening and sets out the changes it is making to prepare its students for robust careers in a challenging work environment.

And they include making sure there is stronger understanding of what is ahead. This summary of what Australia’s principal participants in business and workforce planning are thinking is part of it.

It is a live document which will be updated as more submissions are lodged.

David Fagan

March 2018

 

Content sourced from QUT News Web Service.

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