Workforce | Skills

The future of the workforce is already here

Speaking on the topic of job security in the future, Workskil Australia Chief Executive Officer, Nicole Dwyer, told an audience at CEDA’s State of the Nation that “disruption in the workforce is well and truly here and is already a major issue in Australia.”

Ms Dwyer spoke on a panel that was chaired by Curtin University Future of Work Institute Director, Professor Mark Griffin, and included Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary, Sally McManus, and McKinsey & Company Associate Partner Hassan Noura.

Ms Dwyer said that “while our employment rate is relatively stable, long-term employment is definitely going up and there is a big current of underemployment.

“Ideally in the future when we talk about technical disruption, it will be about removing some of the routine parts of our jobs…but the challenge for us is to ensure that everyone in the community is included in what we know as work. Leaving people out of that creates a whole lot of social issues and costs.”

Speaking to the question of job security, Ms McManus said that Australians have “normalised the level of insecure work that we have,” drawing attention to the fact that “Australia has the third highest rate of non-standard work in the OECD.”

Ms McManus argued that “we could limit the number of casual jobs we have by ensuring permanent jobs are not called casual jobs” and suggested that Australia is “way out of whack in terms of fixed term contracts”.

“There are a lot of simple policy settings that could reduce the number of insecure jobs and that would make a big difference in the overall picture that we have,” Ms McManus said.

Mr Noura took a broader perspective on the issue, examining some of the economic factors contributing to concerns about job security.  

“While the Australian economy has continued to grow over the past decade, the quality of that growth has declined. In particular, productivity growth has declined dramatically, and wage growth has basically all but collapsed,” he said.

“I think that adds a much greater level of urgency to job security. It is one thing to be insecure about your job but relatively confident that if you lost your job you could find another one with equal or higher pay, but it becomes a more urgent social issue when people no longer have that confidence.”

The panel also discussed the barriers to developing the skills that the future job market will demand.

Ms Dwyer spoke about the need for more apprenticeships and traineeships.

“Over the last five years we have reduced the number of apprenticeships commencing in this country by 50 per cent yet many of those roles are the roles that can’t be replaced.”

Ms McManus also highlighted the shortfall in vocational skills, saying that cuts to the Australian TAFE and VET system have been an “absolute disaster”.

Speaking to the issue of automation, the panel acknowledged that it is more complex than it is often portrayed to be.

Mr Noura reflected on how automation will affect sectors differently. “Certain jobs are going to be more vulnerable – work that is manual and routine or predictable. On the other hand, there will be a huge increase in demand for new types of skills, technology skills and working with machines as well as the emotional and social skills used to interact with people,” he said.

Ms McManus also struck a hopeful note on the topic of automation. “I am sceptical of the people who say all the jobs are going to go and I do not think the evidence backs it up at all. Workplace participation is at its highest and there are more jobs than there has been before,” she said.

“Having said that there is a hollowing out at the middle with the loss of the manufacturing industry.”    

Ms Dwyer echoed this sentiment and reinforced the idea that “disruption will not be one big event. We are right in the middle of it as we speak, and it has been a gradual change.”

“Even in the manufacturing sector we have seen most of those workers move back out into the workplace and do well. Are they getting paid the same? Do they have the same secure employment? Probably not but it is not as disastrous as has been painted.”