Chapter 8 Skills and jobs of the future

State of Australia’s Skills 2021: now and into the future

Chapter 8 Skills and jobs of the future

Among the key skills that will be needed for jobs of the future are care, computing, cognitive and communication skills.

There are many divergent views and research methodologies in the future of work debate. There are also a number of myths and misconceptions. Much of the debate centres around the single issue of how automation will threaten jobs in the future.

Automation has varying effects within occupations and industries. It can replace labour in some jobs and tasks humans used to perform as well as creating new tasks and demand for labour. For example, software and computers have replaced labour in some white-collar jobs. They also created new tasks including programming, software and application development, and more specialist tasks within existing occupations. The NSC views computing as a key skill of the future, reflecting the job creation aspect of this mega trend.

The combination of an ageing population and the lower ability to automate tasks and jobs in the cluster family of health and care suggests that ‘care’ is likely to be a key skill of the future.

One of the impacts of the pandemic on the labour market appears to have been an acceleration of long term trends. One such trend is the shift in demand for labour away from routine tasks (repetitive physical labour that can be replicated by machines) towards non-routine (non-repetitive or non-codifiable) work. The greater difficulty in automating non routine cognitive jobs and tasks (at high and lower skill levels) also suggests that cognitive jobs will remain in high demand into the future.

The analysis in this chapter also highlights the importance of core competencies or ‘employability skills’ . The analysis finds that high proficiency in core competencies correlates with a decrease in the likelihood of automation. Within that group of core competencies, oral communication and writing require high proficiency and are the least likely to be automated. This finding sits behind the NSC’s view that communication is a core skill of the future.

Throughout this report a key focus has been on drawing out the big forces: a shift to higher skill jobs and an ongoing shift toward services, including care; the resilience of non-routine and cognitive jobs in the face of automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI); the opportunities and new jobs being created by technology; and an acknowledgment that many of those forces likely to shape the future have also shaped our recent past.