Real World Futures

Future work needs thought and action now

Date: 13 March 2018

The future of work debate needs to move from being fear-based to being focussed on what actions can be taken to improve the prospects of workers, according to one of the world’s leading experts on the subject.

Associate Professor Michael Osborne told a QUT Real World Futures breakfast: “The debate should be centered on what we can do now, what are the right policy responses we can take as institutions and individuals.”

His call came as part of the Real World Conversation, Changing Roles – The Real Story on the Future of Work, where he was one of four speakers.

A/Professor Osborne is the co-author of the first study to have identified the scale of disruption possible from automation but he said subsequent studies had shown where there could also be growth in employment because of other drivers of change.

They include environmental and demographic changes.

The skills that would matter in the future, he said, were topped by judgement and decision making which could easily be replicated by machines.

He also gave examples of unintended consequences from technology.

Waiters, a group of workers he and other researchers had believed were at risk from disruption, actually were part of a growth industry. This was mainly because diners valued the human interaction and restaurant and café owners valued their ability to “upsell”. Conversely, some diners like ordering digitally because it spared them the guilt of ordering a calorie-laden dessert on top of a calorie-laden main meal.

Another example was the use of autonomous vehicles in the mining industry which created efficiencies for resources companies but also gave them far more data than ever about the performance of their mines.

The Real World Conversation, the start of the fourth year for this series of events that has looked at the future of working, thinking and living, also included perspectives from two other groups: a Brisbane high school and the council governing a large regional area, the Sunshine Coast.

The McGregor High School principal, Ms Elizabeth Foster, told the 150 people at the breakfast that considerations about future workforces needed to extend beyond 2030, the date at which children now entering school would be entering the workforce. “We need to think of the world of work in 2040, 2050 and beyond,” she said.

She explained how differences in the world of work created a need for different education. “We need to be able to learn and teach people to relearn,” she said. “Students need to understand how they learn.”

Ms Foster detailed McGregor High’s Year 10 where students had co-designed a program around the skills that might be needed in future jobs.

The Sunshine Coast Regional Council Chief Strategy Officer, Dr Graham Fraine, told the group how his city was looking for ways to exploit opportunities from technology and changed ways of working. The opportunities to exploit included the better use of co-working spaces and the onshoring of high-speed cable at Mooloolooba in the centre of the city.

His colleague, the council’s Group Executive, Business Performance, Ms Jeanette Allom-Hill, explained the skills the council (which runs the ninth largest city in Australia) was looking for. The top five were:

  1. The ability to think of new solutions;
  2. Comfort with chaos;
  3. Understanding of technology;
  4. High emotional intelligence;
  5. The ability to work together.

The speaker slides from the event are online and the videos of the speakers’ presentations will go live later this week.

Participants in the Real World Conversation have also had access to a booklet summing up the range of views in the future of work debate. It is downloadable here.

Content sourced from QUT News Web Service.

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