Future of Work: Australia Over the Next 15-25 Years


The primary concerns of the future are technological advances, which may lead to widespread adoption of Artificial Intelligence, and climate change, which necessitates sustainable development. Both of these are likely to significantly change the job market or the entire concept of work. It is certain that technology will continue to develop, and that climate change will continue to pose a challenge, which are the primary drivers for change. It is also certain that large cities dominate economic development, and that resource extraction and agriculture will adopt high-tech solutions to satisfy the future needs of the world’s population. It is, however, unknown how exactly the job market will change following the advent of these solutions, and what other factors may present a whole new set of problems. The human capacity to adapt will be key to Australia’s survival and success.

The world continues to evolve, and an advanced country must evolve alongside it. The Industrial Revolution brought a never-before-seen efficiency to labor and volume to production, but it cost many people their livelihoods. Today, a new set of challenges is set forth by climate change, advanced IT, and globalization. Just like during the Industrial Revolution, the landscape of jobs will change, the volume and type of produced goods will shift, and many people might lose their means of survival. Australia has to be ready to implement meaningful change in order not to fail its citizens. The policymakers and opinion leaders have to understand what is happening, what society needs, and what is best for the planet.

Future of Work: Key Strategic Certainties

Perhaps the most prominent common theme of all future-related speculation is the advent of Artificial Intelligence. Some say that AI will free up some workers indefinitely and give people a chance to live their life free of menial labor. The people who were previously forced to do menial work will instead be able to pursue their true passions. However, being free from work also means being free from income, which leads to heated debates regarding technological unemployment and its effects on citizens. The only certainty in that is the fact that technology is advancing and is expected to make some jobs redundant eventually. Whatever the details turn out to be, people have to be ready for some uncomfortable adjustment (‘The onrushing wave; The future of jobs,’ 2014). The machines are expected to take over some cognitive work, such as accounting, data analytics, controlling heavy machinery, and driving vehicles.

Another strategic certainty is that economic activity is mostly located in dense urban centres, such as Sydney, Perth, or Melbourne. Australia had seen overall economic growth in the 2010s, but it was uneven. The high-performing economic entities in the city are expected to succeed even more if no hurdles are placed by policymakers to hinder their success. At the same time, the low-performing areas in the other regions of Australia may need some investments and organizational help. The jobs and, conversely, the population follow good economic tidings (PwC, 2014). Jobs will appear in the economically viable urban areas, creating value and motivating more people to move there in search of employment. These pinpricks of high performance will be very vulnerable to changes, and large swaths of employed urban population may find themselves made redundant, leading to various complications. At the same time, the economic downturn may get exacerbated by an outflow of people in some areas, leading to even less economic viability, fewer jobs, and fewer opportunities.

However, there is another factor that counteracts this concentration of wealth, employment, and people. Natural resources have been very profitable to extract and export, creating opportunities and jobs in areas with a high concentration of coal, metal, and other resources. Many jobs in resource extraction will likely appear due to the viability of the industry, giving an alternative to following the money to a handful of major cities. So far, Australian domestic resource extraction industries and the industries that depend on those resources have been steadily growing (CSIRO, 2016). That trend is expected to continue for at least another ten years, with a slight caveat. While resource extraction is not the most prominent industry in Australia, it can be and is being integrated with IT. Supplementing heavy machinery and manual labour with data-driven digital solutions creates more jobs for the technologically savvy while retaining some of its tried and true characteristics.

With that in mind, an important certainty is climate change, which impresses particular importance on carbon emissions and shifting towards sustainable energy. The CSIRO (2016) report impressed the importance of resource extraction, namely coal. While it is profitable to export coal to developing nations, it is not an environmentally-friendly source of power. According to Guidolin and Alpcan (2019), natural gas and renewables are competing with coal, and are likely to outstrip it with the universal drive for sustainability. There has already been a decline in coal-mining employment due to its decreasing economic viability (Markandya et al., 2016). Natural gas may become the staple of the Australian resource extraction industry, while coal is likely to fall by the wayside as developing nations shift away from it as well.

The agriculture and food industry may be facing a challenge in the coming years. The increased economic performance has made the population more prosperous and increased their demand for high-quality food. Australia is in a good position to create scientific solutions to increase efficiency, volume, and quality of foodstuffs. Technological progress in genetic engineering and agriculture can help Australian crop production to become more sustainable, diverse, and profitable. There may be an increase in jobs that will require a high level of education in biology, genetics, and IT, while more traditional farming jobs are likely to be made redundant by machinery.

Future of Work: Key Strategic Uncertainties

While the advent of AI is likely inevitable, the finer details remain unclear. Some experts predict that AI will supplement human labour and management, acting as one of the tools of the trade and a collaborator, rather than a replacer (Jarrahi, 2018). Others claim that technological advancement will deconstruct many jobs and create an entirely new free knowledge-based society (Susskind and Susskind, 2015). There is also an opinion that some technological unemployment will happen, but ultimately it will not change the landscape all that much (Cowan, 2017). The existing welfare mechanisms are expected to take care of the people during the transitional period. It is unclear yet, which scenario is more likely to happen.

The future may hold many perils as well, which could disrupt the best-laid plans. As the population increases in longevity, healthcare becomes more sophisticated to keep them alive. At the same time, the livestock is pumped with pharmaceuticals to keep the animals healthy. Because of the saturation of drugs, some pathogens grow resistant to antibiotics (Zaman et al., 2017). The problem is exacerbated by an over-prescription of drugs in advanced economies. Australia fits that description, and the high population density in large cities can lead to a disastrous pandemic if some treatment-resistant pathogen appears. It is unknown how likely the outbreak is to happen, and if it does, when and where.

The world is becoming increasingly politicised, with every issue gaining a political angle in the media or academia. The technological advancement is no exception, with some scholars claiming that the maximum benefit is achieved through democratizing technology and embracing Marxist ideals of redistribution and humane work environment (Spencer, 2018). Should that vision become the dominant ideology, the job market will look very different compared to a more capitalist solution. Because of the Internet, the political landscape is volatile and unpredictable, and one cannot be certain which policies are going to be promoted in the coming years.

Future of Work: Key Drivers

The primary driver, which is also both a certainty and the uncertainty, is the technological progress. It has already been explained how digital solutions will impact various key industries in Australia and elsewhere. It has also been explained how the exact impact is difficult to predict. While it would not be unreasonable to plan for the most disastrous outcome possible, the waste of public resources, tax money, and political goodwill may create more problems than it would solve.

The concern for the climate is likely to remain one of the most prominent drivers of the industry, technology, and social norms. The gradual replacement of dirty energy sources for sustainable ones is a given, but the exact nature of the clean energy may shape the world and the job market in different ways. Nuclear or geothermal plants call for a different set of skills and infrastructure than wind turbines and solar panels. While the current environment favours the latter, technological advancements may make the former more viable within the next 20 years.

The predictions humans like to make about the future are sometimes misguided. They are always based on the paradigms of the present rather than some radical breakthroughs of the future. There may be some unknown drivers that are unprecedented or under-researched as of now. There may also happen a paradigm shift that decreases the impact of the current drivers to near zero. Because of that, a third important driver is plain human tenacity and the ability to adapt to rapid change as well as create it.

Future of Work: Working Theory

The working theory takes everything discussed in this report so far and compartmentalizes it into three groups: the certain, the uncertain, and the drivers. The fourth group, which is the logical inferences about the likely future scenarios, is derived from the information used in the creation of the first three. The theory allows for sudden change, should a radical paradigm shift happen at some point. The simplistic visual representation of the working theory should be clear, concise, and aesthetically pleasing.

Certain and Drivers

Summary and Conclusion

The rapid technological progress and climate change can significantly change the landscape of the job market or dismantle some types of work altogether. Some established driving factors of these changes in Australia include urbanization, rich resource deposits, and growing nutritional requirements. Sustainable and clean energy sources are already competing with traditional ones. However, the exact impact that will be caused by IT, AI, and technological unemployment is unknown. Australia has enough resources and human capital to adapt to change, but the leaders must be quick to react in order not to exacerbate the situation by the misguided policy.

Reference List

Cowan, S. (2017). UBI–universal basic income is an unbelievably bad idea. Web.

CSIRO (2016) Australia 2030: Navigating our uncertain future. Web.

Guidolin, M., & Alpcan, T. (2019). ‘Transition to sustainable energy generation in Australia: Interplay between coal, gas and renewables’ Renewable Energy, 139, pp. 359-367.

Jarrahi, M. H. (2018). ‘Artificial intelligence and the future of work: Human-AI symbiosis in organizational decision making’ Business Horizons, 61(4), pp. 577–586.

Markandya, A., Arto, I., González-Eguino, M., & Román, M. V. (2016). ‘Towards a green energy economy? Tracking the employment effects of low-carbon technologies in the European Union’ Applied Energy, 179, pp. 1342–1350.

PwC (2014) Australia uncovered: a new lens for understanding our evolving economy. Web.

Spencer, D. A. (2018). ‘Fear and hope in an age of mass automation: debating the future of work’ New Technology, Work and Employment, 33(1), pp. 1–12.

Susskind, R. and Susskind, D. (2015) The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

‘The onrushing wave; The future of jobs’ (2014) The Economist, 410(8870) pp. 24-28.

Zaman, S. B., Hussain, M. A., Nye, R., Mehta, V., Mamun, K. T., & Hossain, N. (2017). ‘A review on antibiotic resistance: Alarm bells are ringing’ Cureus, 9(6).

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