The Future of Work

Just as the Australian labour market has changed over the past century, it will continue to change going forward. To help us to understand possible futures for jobs and employment markets in Australia over the coming twenty years, towards 2035, a new report, Tomorrow’s  Digitally  Enabled  Workforce  –  megatrends  and scenarios  for  jobs  and  employment  in  Australia  over  the  next twenty years, has been released.

A brief summary of some of key issues is presented on this page. A copy of the report is available at


The report identifies Megatrends, or major changes that will reshape business and policy. The Megatrends most relevant to labour market change are

  • growth in computing power, connectivity, data volumes and artificial intelligence
  • changing employment markets and organisational structures
  • the era of the entrepreneur
  • divergent demographics
  • continued growth of the service sector.


These Megatrends will affect the ways in which people manage their careers (and those of their children), the manner in which companies manage their workforces and how governments regulate and manage the labour market. A number of key issues are highlighted, including the following.

  • Education  and  training  is  becoming  more  important.
    There will be increasingly fewer jobs in the service sector of the economy which do not require skills and/or post-school qualifications.
  • New  capabilities  are  needed  for  new  jobs  of  the  future.
    Lifelong education and training is required for Australians of all ages to meet the needs of new and different jobs and employment  models.
  • Digital literacy is needed alongside numeracy and literacy.
    Australians will need to be literate, numerate and digitally literate. These capabilities will be basic requirements for most jobs.
  • The importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) will change.
    STEM skills are likely to be needed in many of the better paid jobs of the future.
  • New  aptitudes  and  mindsets  will  be  needed  to  handle  a dynamic labour market.
    In tomorrow’s job market adaptability, resilience, buoyancy and entrepreneurial capabilities will be of increasing importance.
  • Tapered  retirement  models  will  become  more  common
    There is a need to develop tapered (and other new) retirement models that productively harness the skills of older workers and ensure positions are available for younger labour market entrants.

An historic level of change

There are several factors creating unique conditions, such as rapid advances in, and adoption of, digital technology.

  • The full impact of growth in computing power, device connectivity, data volumes and artificial intelligence is yet to be felt within Australia’s labour market.
  • The Internet is at the early stages of growth. In 2006 there were 2 billion smart connected devices, in 2015 there were 15 billion and by 2020 there will be 200 billion. Australia has high rates of internet access and mobile connectedness. This is likely to increase in regional areas.
  • Internet access is growing globally. There will be increased competition for jobs that can be performed online.
  • Rapid advances are being made in artificial intelligence.
  • Cloud computing has arrived, enabling lean start-ups connecting diverse groups of workers.

Demographic change

  • In the next decade Australia’s workforce will be older and more culturally diversified.
  • Nearly one in five Australians is expected to be over 65 years old in 2035.
  • More than 80% of migrants arriving each year are of working-age, while only 54% of the residents are of working-age.
  • Mental ill-health is prevalent in the Australian population including in workers.
  • Higher education enrolments are increasing and so are the costs.
  • Online education is likely to continue to complement university. Free learning opportunities are increasing and more widely available.

Task automation

Task automation, or the extent to which robots and software will be able to do the work of humans, affects jobs. There is, however, a great deal of uncertainty about how much jobs will become automated.

  • High automation is where the vast majority of human tasks are performed by robots. This creates job opportunities, and requires skills, that are very different from those that exist today.
  • Low automation is where just some job tasks become automated, but many do not. In this future, the jobs and skills required are not too much different from now.

New jobs

Workers with a mix of technical skills and interpersonal aptitudes will have the best prospects for meaningful work. Jobs involving creativity, complex judgement, advanced reasoning, social interaction and emotional intelligence are likely to grow in the decades ahead, and are less likely to be affected by advances in automation and artificial intelligence.

The report presents six examples of new jobs that may be created in the coming years.

  • Big Data Analysts
  • Complex Decision Support Analysts
  • Remote Controlled Vehicle Operators
  • Customer Experience Experts
  • Personalised Preventative Health Helpers
  • Online Chaperones (managing risks with identity theft, reputational damage, social media bullying and internet fraud).

Source: Hajkowicz, S., Reeson, A., Rudd, L., Bratanova, A., Hodgers, L., Mason, C., Boughen, N., (2016). Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation