The Future Of Work: 4 Trends To Look Out For

Posted January 19, 2015, by Vivien Luu

We’ve bypassed 2015 – the very same year that Marty and Doc travelled to in Spielberg’s cult classic, Back to the Future.

While we know we won’t be seeing self-lacing shoes in the office or a daily commute that involves a hoverboard anytime soon, when it comes to the future of our work, what can we expect to see?

1. A global workforce without mid-skilled jobs, but lots of robots

In short, technology and the growing availability of high-speed internet is simultaneously creating and destroying jobs.

Work goes global

Twenty years ago, broadband internet was a luxury. Today, the UN says it’s a basic human right, and in some countries like Finland, it’s even a legal requirement. With the number of people connected to the web growing at lightning speed, experts are predicting that by 2025, five billion of us will be online.

This trend will create a global workforce that, according to future work experts like Lynda Gratton, will have ‘profound impacts on the way we work.’ It’ll mean continual growth in global outsourcing, enabling companies to ‘figure out who their essential people are’ and simply ‘outsource the rest,’ a Vistage White Paper reports.

And it’s something we’re already seeing. In 2013, over $1.5 billion of work was done globally in online marketplaces like oDesk, Elance and Freelancer.

Middle-skilled jobs are disappearing

The labour force is experiencing unprecedented polarisation, as we continue to lose middle-skilled jobs to outsourcing. Gratton says:

‘The past few years have been marked by the hollowing out of work… By which I mean that the middle-skilled jobs traditionally taken on by graduates have been outsourced … leaving only low-skilled jobs or high-skilled jobs.’

It means the only jobs left will be complex ones, and low-skilled jobs that need to be carried out by someone on location.

Humans need not apply: robots make jobs redundant

Contributing to this loss of middle-skilled jobs is the fact that automation technology is growing at a rapid pace, leading experts to predict robots will be replacing us in the not too distant future.

According to a study conducted by Oxford academics, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, within the next two decades, a staggering 47 per cent of jobs will be made redundant thanks to computerisation.

MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson and co-author of the book, The Second Machine Age, points out that ‘technology has always been destroying jobs and has always been creating jobs, since the first machine age.’ But, as he tells the ABC, the problem is ‘today it’s happening at a scale and speed that’s much greater than before.’

The Future Of Work: 4 Trends To Look Out For

These days there are machines that can do a multitude of things that were unthinkable a decade ago, from self-driving cars through to machines that can answer legal questions or make medical diagnoses.

So this makes you wonder, which jobs will the bots steal from us and which ones are safe?

According to Frey and Osborne’s findings, the jobs most immune to automation are the ones that involve caring for others, persuasion and negotiation skills, social perceptiveness as well as fine arts and originality.

At low risk

(Less than 1% chance of being automated)

At high risk

(99% chance of being automated)

Teachers (preschool, primary and secondary) Telemarketers
Fabric and apparel patternmakers Sewers
Athletic trainers Insurance underwriters
Emergency management directors Watch repairers
Choreographers Cargo and freight agents
Anthropologists and archaeologists Tax preparers
Allied health professionals like occupational therapists, psychologists, podiatrists, speech pathologists and nurses Tile examiners, abstractors and searchers
HR managers Library technicians
Computer systems analysts Mathematical technicians

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2. A multigenerational workforce thanks to longer working lives

The Future Of Work: 4 Trends To Look Out For

According to the World Health Organisation, Australian girls born in 2012 can expect to live, on average, to 84.6 years, while Aussie boys can expect to live to 80.5 years of age.

Combine this with the Australian Government Actuary’s projections that one in eight babies born in 2014 will live to 100, and it’s pretty clear life expectancy is on the rise. What this is doing is also increasing the age at which Australians can retire.

We’re working longer

Between 2004 and 2005, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that the average age of retirement was 58 years for men and 47 years for women.

But in 2008-2013, this rose drastically to sit between 61.5 – 63.3 years for men, and 59.6 years for women. And it’s only set to get worse. Within the 45+ age bracket, almost two-thirds of people intend to retire at over 65 years of age, while 17 per cent expect to work til they are 70 or older.

So what does this mean? With a greater percentage of older people needing to remain working for longer, the most multigenerational workforce we have ever seen has begun to emerge.

Talkin’ bout my generation

‘The numbers don’t lie,’ writes director of Future Casting, Brian David Johnson, for an Intel report on the future of Australia. ‘We know we will have a lot of young people and people with grey hair. They are going to be spread all over the world and not evenly distributed.’

Currently there are five generations in the workforce:

  • Traditionalists (born mid 1920s – 1945)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 – early 1960s)
  • Generation X (born early 1960s – early 1980s)
  • Generation Y (born early 1980s – mid 1990s)
  • Generation Z (born mid 1990s – present)

And each of them turn up to work each day with their own distinct set of values, priorities and expectations. This can only be a good thing, right? Well, for the economy, yes.

Senior economics writer for TIME Magazine, Stephan Gandel, gives an example:

 ‘[When] women enter[ed] the workforce in the 1960s and ’70s …demand for child-care workers took off, the prepared-foods industry boomed. And unemployment rates in the following decades hit new lows. A healthy supply of older workers can be the salve for one of the worst types of economic poison – inflation.’

But for HR managers and organisations, catering to the diverse needs and career expectations of five distinctly different cohorts is proving to be problematic. At the Centre for Workplace Leadership’s 2014 Future of Work conference, Gratton pointed out this emerging trend. ‘We’re already seeing at work quite a lot of friction between these generations, particularly because they like to use technology differently.’

Looking into the future, the multigenerational workforce could be a goldmine of opportunity for companies, or a landmine of friction and conflict.

3. Work that’s about productivity and flexibility, not just showing up

The Future Of Work: 4 Trends To Look Out For

As Gen X take the reigns, and millennials flood the jobs market, we’re going to see a strong cultural shift in the workplace that’ll embrace flexibility and turn traditional ideas of work upside down.

In the Safeguarding the Future of Digital Australia in 2025 report, Chief Privacy Officer of McAfee, Michelle Dennedy, says:

‘Employers have tried to judge performance on now meaningless correlations of check in and check out times in the office. But the most productive work may take place anywhere and anytime. In future, we’ll be more results-based, not showing up-based.’

This means more freedom and flexibility for workers – whatever that may mean for your individual circumstances. As Gandel points out, ‘flexibility is no longer a favour to be handed out like candy at a children’s birthday party; it’s a compelling business strategy.’ And here’s the kicker.

When companies give employees freedom, they’re happier. And when workers are happy, productivity skyrockets. Gandel cites examples such as the American company Best Buy, who implemented a system called ROWE – resulted-only work environment – and found that productivity, in some cases, shot up by 40 per cent.

And that’s the magic word, really: productivity.

Experts are already pointing to the myriad of ways companies can increase productivity and foster a more cohesive and collaborative work environment. Future trends include implementing a work culture that encourages more social engagement and designing office spaces that support teamwork.

The Future Of Work: 4 Trends To Look Out For

Intel’s report predicts future offices will be ‘more attractive than those of today and designed to facilitate face-to-face communication and collaboration.’

Creating office spaces like Pixar’s and Google’s – ones that foster play – will soon become the norm, as employers increasingly realise the benefits of a cohesive office.

Take the Bank of America for example, who saw a 10 per cent increase in productivity when they simply encouraged workers to eat lunch together.

4. Companies that care about social responsibility

The Future Of Work: 4 Trends To Look Out For

As a society, we’re becoming increasingly more conscious of our social responsibilities to the world – a trend that is also impacting the workforce.

A Neilsen global survey on corporate social responsibility found that millennials (Gen Y and Z) are particularly responsive to sustainability causes. Brimming with idealism and naturally attuned to corporate responsibility and social ethics, Gen Z is, according to Intel’s report on the future of Australia, ‘moving into the workforce…acting on the principle that [they] can take effective action today to create a better world tomorrow.’

And with millennials set to make up almost half of the labour market by 2020, according to a forecast by the Society of Human Resource Management; many experts like Gratton say businesses need to play a bigger role in combatting global issues in order to attract top talent, remain relevant and stay competitive.

‘The issue of poverty and inequality is changing work, it’s changing organisations,’ said Gratton at the Future of Work conference.

Society is placing increased pressure on organisations to pull their weight and help solve big global problems like climate change and extreme poverty. A global PWC survey found that 65 per cent of respondents said they wanted to work for an organisation with a powerful social conscience.

In their Future of Work: A Journey to 2022 report, PWC envisions three different futures – one of which involves a ‘green world’ where:

‘Corporate responsibility is not an altruistic nice to have, but a business imperative… and companies take the lead in developing a social conscience and sense of environmental responsibility.’

Fail to rise to the challenge, and experts say companies will find themselves unable to succeed in a business landscape that increasingly demands more.

Want to future-proof your career? Find out what skills every employer will want by 2020!

Future-proof yourself in 2015 by upskilling or taking your career in a new direction!

Vivien Luu
Vivien Luu

Viv is a writer who enjoys researching and writing about creativity, how the human mind works, and neuro processes. She values creativity above all else and admires people who pursue their career dreams, no matter the sacrifice. In her spare time, she binges on HBO shows and epic fantasy novels.

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