The workplace of 2035: drone operators, shared office spaces and entrepreneurs

30 March 2016

Ever wondered what your workplace or business will look like in 2035? In the next 20 years, employment markets and business structures as we know them are likely to change, as digital technology advances.

A new report from the CSIRO, ‘Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce’, paints a future where Australians work side by side with machines, in jobs that today exist only on the margins or in our imagination.

The report charts a number of trends over the next 20 years, predicting what might happen as our workplaces become more and more digitally focused and automated. According to the report, a number of factors and unique conditions have all come together at one time to create a ‘perfect storm’ affecting how we work.

Rapid advances in the take-up of digital technology—including the amount of work we now do online, on the internet, and around the world—has combined with the rise in digital technologies that are transforming the structure and makeup of businesses. 

Another major contributor to change is our changing demographics—our workers are becoming on average older and more culturally diverse. 

Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce is the result of a multi−disciplinary and multi−sector partnership project between CSIRO, the Department of Employment, the Australian Computer Society, Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures (BCG) and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ).

In this post, we take a look at the major findings of Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce and how they might impact on the Australian workforce in the future.

Workforce megatrends for the next 20 years

‘Megatrends’ are gradual and deep-set trajectories of change that will at some future point in time reshape the business environment in a fundamental way.

The CSIRO’s report identifies six of these megatrends for Australia’s workforce over the coming 20 years. They are the result of a combination of forces: technology advances, digital connectivity, globalisation, the ageing population and the rise of new economic structures. 

  1. Rapid advances in automated systems and artificial intelligence mean robotic devices can perform many tasks more quickly, safely and efficiently than humans.
  2. Digital technology and the new world of ‘platform economics’ is changing employment markets and organisational structures—this includes ‘peer-to-peer’ services such as Freelancer.com.
  3. The ideal job in a large organisation may not be awaiting some people. Some individuals may need to create their own jobs.
  4. Australia’s population is ageing as life expectancies grow.
  5. As our use of automated systems increases, tasks are becoming more complex and higher skill levels are needed for entry-level positions.
  6. Employment growth in the service industries has driven jobs creation in recent times—in particular education and healthcare.

Freelancing, shared office spaces and the peer to peer economy

Jobs of the future are likely to be more flexible, agile, networked and connected.

Shared office spaces will double in number and the traditional office will become a thing of the past, as workers become more mobile and independent. In 2012 alone the number of co-working spaces in Australia increased by 156 per cent, disrupting the horizon for office lease.

While freelancing has not yet taken hold in Australia, it is a large (and growing) employment model in other countries. Companies may opt for staffing models where there is a smaller number of core staff and freelancers fill the gaps.  The number of independent contractors in Australia will continue to rise above 1 million. 

The peer-to-peer economy is expanding into many areas, allowing anyone with an internet connection to participate and transform their time into paid work. Companies such as Upwork, Kaggle, Innoventive and Freelancer.com already allow employers and employees to advertise, promote themselves and access job markets that ordinarily would not be accessible.

The era of the entrepreneur

Rather than going to work for a company, in the future it’s more and more likely that individuals will create jobs for themselves through entrepreneurialism. To do this they’ll need entrepreneurial skills and aptitudes, as well as a solid grasp on digital technology.

The digital marketplace will encourage small business as it provides options for new market entrants to gain a foothold, compete with longstanding incumbents and access a global market. Entrepreneurial skills are likely to be increasingly important for small business founders as well as employees in large organisations. 

Automation will change the jobs we do

Many of Australia’s current jobs are potentially at high risk of computerisation and automation.  However, new jobs will also be created. There will not necessarily be less jobs, but the types of jobs we’ll do will change.  

The report puts forward six examples of new types of jobs that are likely to develop, including:

  • specialised big data analysts
  • complex decision support analysts
  • remote controlled vehicle operators
  • customer experience experts
  • personalised preventative health helpers
  • online security chaperones.

While there is no doubt that skills in technology will be important in the years to come, these job predictions demonstrate that there will still be a variety of jobs that need different capabilities, including workers with a high level of interpersonal skills. 

New skills and mindsets are needed for the future

The megatrends in the CSIRO report have the potential to significantly transform how people manage their (and their children’s) careers, how the government regulates and manages the labour market, and how employers manage their workforce. 

Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce highlights some things for individuals and employers to think about:

  • education and training is becoming ever more important
  • new capabilities are needed for new jobs of the future
  • digital literacy is needed alongside numeracy and literacy
  • Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills will be important (but participation in those subjects is declining)
  • new aptitudes and mindsets will be needed to handle a dynamic labour market
  • current perceptions and norms about job types need to be challenged
  • workforce participation needs to be improved in vulnerable demographics (such as low skilled male workers)
  • tapered retirement models may become more common
  • new models to forecast job transition requirements will be developed, as some jobs are automated and new jobs are created
  • more information needs to be collected on  the peer-to-peer (and freelancer) economy as it grows. 

For more information on what may be in store for your business or workplace in the next 20 years, read the Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce report.

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