What will work look like in the future and what lessons can employers take from that? Two recent reports have identified the trends in the way in which we will work in Australia over the next 20 to 40 years.

In the first, Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce, the CSIRO looks at what they describe as six ‘megatrends’ for jobs and employment markets over the coming twenty years:

  1. The use of robotics to perform tasks more quickly, safely and efficiently than humans;
  2. The rise of digital technology and the new world of ‘platform economics’, which mean that jobs of the future are likely to be more flexible, agile, networked and connected;
  3. The need for many individuals to use entrepreneurial skills to create their own job;
  4. An ageing population, more diverse workforces and more diverse cultural backgrounds;
  5. A higher bar for skills required for entry-level positions; and
  6. Continued growth in the service industries, in particular education and healthcare – requiring social interaction skills and emotional intelligence.

The second, the NSW Government’s ‘Future State NSW 2056’ report, examines trends in workforce participation, living arrangements and productivity and projects them over the next 40 years. The report foreshadows a number of key developments in relation to the jobs of the future. These are remarkably similar to those identified in the CSIRO report:

  1. The decline in the ‘producer industries’ (manufacturing, construction and agriculture) in Australia and the continued rise of the services sector (health and professional services, such as engineers, computer designers, accountants, lawyers and scientists);
  2. Future sources of employment being in arts, engineering, AI, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, genetics and biotechnology;
  3. The rapid growth of the peer-to-peer and freelance employment markets – which often means the outsourcing of work to specialist contractors and consultants, who are likely to work from home or use shared facilities;
  4. Workers having ‘portfolio careers’ (multiple jobs with multiple employers on a part-time basis); and
  5. Telecommuting and remote working becoming the norm (rather than the exception) in some industries.

While many of these trends are well known, they are potentially still very confronting for many workers – and businesses too. But what lessons can employers take from these trends? I think there are three:

  • Work will not involve, and workers will expect their jobs will not involve, just ‘doing’. The focus for the design of the jobs of the future will be around how workers can have creative input – in other words, workers will expect to use their abilities to ‘think’. Organisations will need to ensure that jobs create intellectual stimulation and challenge. Any process work will be done (if it is not now) autonomously by technology.
  • Workers will not have an expectation of a lengthy period of employment or engagement with one particular organisation, but they will have high expectations of the learning and development that they can obtain from that organisation. This will be a critical area of focus for organisations wanting to be leaders in their field – because it will be about finding the best talent, rather than the best talent finding you.
  • Organisations will have to develop ways of working with their workforce that take into account the diversity of the workforce and the diversity in the ways in which people will perform work – including by operating their own businesses. Your engagement with those who provide ‘labour’ to the organisation will need to be continuously innovative so that you can build resilience to ongoing rapid change.