The changing world of work

The world of work is always changing. Not that long ago, you could have expected to walk away from school into a job in a factory or office and stay there for 45 years. These days, “job-hopping” is much more common – it’s predicted that Gen Z workers can expect have up to 16 jobs across their lifetime. And many jobs that existed even just 30 or 40 years ago are no longer necessary thanks to new technology.

In fact, technology is now moving at such a pace that we can expect work to look different again in just 5 years – but we can predict (to some extent) what will happen. So why is it important to think about how the world of work is changing, and how might it affect your future career path?

How is the world of work changing?

Since the 1970s, changes in government policy and organisational structures have kept the unemployment rate in Australia at around 7% on average. This means employers have more power over employees who may struggle to find work if they lose their jobs, and is part of the reason why people are willing to accept less secure work with fewer benefits, like gig work.

Advances in technology also mean that lots of the menial, repetitive tasks which used to be done by people are now handled by ever-more intelligent computers. Take the touch-screen ordering system at many fast food restaurants, or the self-serve checkouts at the supermarket – not so long ago these places provided many low-skill, entry-level jobs which are now being done by technology.

It’s not just low-skill jobs that are being affected. Law firms no longer need teams of junior lawyers and legal secretaries to comb hardcopy legal documents; they have automated databases which can be searched by keyword. Librarians are being replaced by online search systems, and pharmacy assistants are being replaced by robotic dispensing machines.

You’ll need your human skills

So if robots are taking over so many jobs, what’s left for us? Well, there are lots of things that robots simply can’t replicate (or at least not to a satisfactory standard) – these are jobs that require our human skills.

Human skills are skills that cannot be replaced by technology. Creativity, intuition, and innovation are human-specific, as are caring skills that help people feel comfortable. Mediators, teachers, nurses, and salespeople are just some examples of human-centric jobs that will always be needed in our workforce.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the future of work and the skills you’ll need, check out this video.

It’s not all doom and gloom

Sure, reading about this stuff can get a bit depressing, but it’s actually not a bad thing. As robots take over some of our dullest jobs, that frees us up to work in more satisfying roles. People in jobs that have been taken over by technology, such as factory line workers, are being supported to up-skill and find new work in other areas that give them more variety and challenges.

The other thing to remember is that most of us pivot at one point or another anyway. For example, apprentices become employees who might go on to start their own business, or manage a team of tradespeople – which requires vastly different skills to those they learnt as an apprentice. And people change jobs all the time; sometimes because we have to, but often because we get bored and want to find a new challenge.

If you’re interested in learning more about how often we change jobs, check out the FYA New Work Order Series for more details.

You don’t want to be a robot

It’s easy for technology to replace the jobs with lots of repetitive, predictable tasks, which is why factories thankfully no longer employ armies of small children and now look like something from a science-fiction movie instead. Working ‘like a machine’ isn’t a good thing – it’s boring, tiring, and never gets any better, so if there’s a robot that can do your job, it means you are free to move on to something else.

The loss of some jobs is being replaced by increased demand for human jobs at all skill levels – the huge outcry for more health and aged care workers is just one example. You can’t automate caring for other people or mediating conflict; these things require humanity, and jobs that require these skills are often highly rewarding too.

How does this apply to my future?

Not all of us will be negatively affected by the changes to the world of work. In fact, if you’re aware of what’s happening, you could use these changes to design a future that works for you – one where you don’t work like a robot doing the same thing every day.

The place to start is with the possible futures you can identify for yourself. Take each one, then analyse it through the lens of “will robots take my job?” You don’t need to guess – there is literally a website when you can ask this.

The safer your chosen job is, the less likely you’ll find yourself needing to pivot into something else down the track. If your chosen job is at high risk of automation, ask yourself what appeals to you about the job, and see if you can find other roles in similar areas that are less likely to be impacted.

Learn more

If you’re keen to learn more about the future world of work, you can read heaps of other blogs on our website here.

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