Workforce | Skills

New ways of working point to new social planning

High profile demographer and KPMG partner, Bernard Salt told a CEDA forum in Adelaide that a fly-in fly-out workforce would define South Australia for decades.

High profile demographer and KPMG partner, Bernard Salt told a CEDA forum in Adelaide that a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workforce, that spent two or three weeks working in remote mining areas and a few weeks at home, would define South Australia for decades.

Mr Salt warned policymakers that South Australia's potentially large (FIFO) mining workforce could create significant social problems in the community.

While workers did not want to live in the Australian interior, they were happy to work in stints to extract resources. Commuter flights to remote mining areas such as Olympic Dam and Moomba have dramatically increased, said Mr Salt.

"Around the time of the 2006 census, I had not even heard the term fly-in fly-out but the single most important figure to come out of the 2011 census will be the number of fly-in fly-out workers in the community," Mr Salt said.

He warned policymakers would need to manage the social dislocation associated with such a workforce.

Mr Salt said: "We have to ask: what is the long term impact on relationships? Will we see relationships fracturing in 2020 as a result of this type of lifestyle?

"It all seems very efficient - and I'm sure it is - but is there a long term social cost? We won't know until it emerges in the weekend communities in Adelaide's suburbs."


Mr Salt said the Global Financial Crisis had shifted the trajectory of the Australian economy away from low skilled manufacturing sectors towards higher skilled jobs in health care and social assistance, administration and support.

"Since the onset of the GFC with the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, we have lost 100,000 jobs in manufacturing and gained 200,000 jobs in health.

"We are focusing on the loss of manufacturing and overlooking the expansion of health and public administration," he said.

This move towards "smart jobs" should be setting the policy agenda in terms of skill development, migration and encouraging young educated South Australians to remain in the state rather than moving east or overseas he said.

Mr Salt said from next year, the new wave of retiring baby boomers would transform the workforce with a new focus on part time work. Baby boomers would replace retirement with a "portfolio lifestyle" that mixed part time work, volunteering and leisure, he said.

"The baby boomers will not tolerate negativity around ageing and this will lead to a powerful social shift in the community... if ever there was a time of life ready for a makeover it is that section between 55-72. It needs to be re-imagined," he said.

Longer life expectancy meant baby boomers could not expect to draw down their tax contribution, consuming health dollars during a long retirement.

"We need a new model - certainly, we are not going to work flat out until we are in our 70s... We can extend our working life if we control the work we do," he said. While those doing physical labour would need to retire earlier, office workers should be able to work in some capacity through their 60s.

Secretary of SA Unions Janet Giles said policymakers needed to focus on creating an employment culture that valued the experience of older people, promoted life-long learning and creating flexible options for workers at the end of their career.

While older workers had often been managed out of their jobs as they reached their physical limits in the workplace, employers were now being encouraged to look at how older workers' skills might be used differently, Ms Giles said.

Retraining packages for older people and encouraging older women back to the workforce could be a useful way of addressing the State's skills shortage, she said.

"We need to develop a new workforce culture, one that involves valuing older workers, has a learning culture and an outcomes-based management focus. We need flexible options for workers at the end of their career," she said.  

Royal Automobile Association of South Australia (RAA) General Manager of Commercial Business Adam Thompson said the RAA had sought to leverage the skills of its ageing workforce to assist in business planning.

Mr Thompson said the company recognised that more than 100 of its 800-strong workforce was aged 55 or over and most of those were in the business of fixing cars - the key service on which the RAA's brand was built.

The RAA had sought to tap into the acquired knowledge of its older workers and had also engaged them in workforce planning. Employees met with their manager's manager once a year to talk about their future and to help identify where capabilities lie within the organisation, Mr Thompson said.

"We understand that capability improves with age," he said.

He said that the RAA was also considering how it might use its expertise in supporting an older client base in the future, bringing together volunteers and community organisations.

Population and Migration Policy Manager at the Department of Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade and Resources Blythe Wood said an older part time work force had the potential to help address South Australia's potential future labour force issues.

"We recognise the important role older people can make as a part time contribution to society, including the workforce," she said.

The State's population policy had sought to address potential labour force shortages by attracting overseas migrants, improving workforce flexibility and encouraging older people to remain in the workforce, she said.