A recent panel event – UTS Big Thinking: The Future of Work is Now – brought industry experts together to look at how the work environment is changing with new technological advancements and automation.
Below are the key takeaways for how you can prepare for the future of work, according to the experts.
How will automation disrupt the nature of work?
Automation is coming, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing. Maile Carnegie (Group Executive Digital Banking at ANZ) was a key proponent of this, highlighting that the predicted upcoming retirement boom, that could see Australia lose 6% of workers, will make automation necessary: “we actually need… a degree of automation just to enable us to maintain our standard of living”.
But will automation lead to mass unemployment? According to Prof Peter Flemming (UTS Business School): “Automation isn’t really designed to get rid of work, it’s designed to reshape work”. In fact, these technologies are already opening up new career pathways and employment gaps in industries such as data science and computing.
How can you prepare?
New technical skills needed
To meet the future of work head on, students and workers will need to start considering the demands a technology-rich labour market will have on the skills they develop – both now, and into the future. There is a growing call for more technical skills across industry, with few currently responding to that call.
Carnegie articulated this issue, noting that the “talent battlegrounds” are being fought in areas such as “data, software development, [and] cloud computing”, leaving those with more “generic technical skills” behind.
Increased push for soft skills and adaptability
There is also a renewed demand for soft skills. Soft and technical skills go hand-in-hand, and both will be essential for successful adaptation to this future workforce. As Prof Shirley Alexander (UTS Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education & Students) asserted:
“We’re always going to need humans to be the interface between machines and society… to do that well you not only need to have really good interpersonal skills, but you need to understand a lot about the algorithms that are being used”.
Unfortunately, even though these soft skills can be developed now, businesses are finding many students and recent graduates are struggling to keep pace with their demands.
Carnegie agreed, noting that some graduates lacked skills in “self-management, and initiative, and follow through”.
As far as we can predict, the future of work is going to require workers to be adaptable and able to connect with numerous points of industry throughout their careers. These softs kills are essential to this future collaboration, so working on developing them now is highly recommended.
Lifelong learning to become a bigger part of our working lives
The future of work isn’t a set thing, it’s a constantly shifting benchmark that moves with each new step towards innovation. As such, it’s impossible to be completely ready for the future of work without some return to education.
Via video, Mark Scott (Secretary of the NSW Department for Education) noted a marked shift in curriculum, where the focus of schooling is turning to developing lifelong learning attributes to prepare students for an unknowable future: “what we need students to have is… a mindset to back themselves to learn”.
For current workers it seems the answer may come in the form of “micro credentials”, as Prof Alexander called them, which will help workers adapt to a work environment involving automation: “so the people who are midway through their career can upskill and learn some of the digital technologies”.
Luckily, many are already starting to participate in re-training, with sites like Coursera reporting a rise in enrolments, moving from 10 million in 2014 to 33 million in 2017. The more popular courses are also reflecting the move towards a more technological age, with Machine Learning and Programming for Everyone rating in the top ten most enrolled course options.
This move towards lifelong learning isn’t surprising, and is perhaps one of the clearest ways to ensure continued employment in the face of automation. Because, as Prof Alexander was quick to point out, “if our workers don’t know or don’t understand that technology” it is unlikely the Australian workforce will keep up with innovation’s rate of change.