JPGIt was exciting to present our 2016 Executive Outlook findings to a packed audience of business leaders at the Ipswich Club, with such a great vibe. We are delighted to share a few of the key highlights with you.

Technology used to be the playground for rich and powerful companies. Now, anyone who is serious can afford to play. Behind household names like Uber are young companies that have grown up on the cloud, without having to own resources. Fast, nimble, tech start-ups with no baggage, are taking on older leaders with mortgages, assets and staff. It’s happening everywhere.

As for whether technology steals or creates more jobs, they’re both right. Our research for Executive Outlook led us down this path, based on interviews with over 70 business leaders.

Most of us are confident, and can re-invent ourselves, even in tough times. At the same time, we are connected to the superpowers (it pays to keep an eye on the headwinds).

The world economy is still fragile, with artificial currency, inflated share markets and zero interest rates. Australia is fortunate to be on China and India’s doorstep. This is a high growth part of the world, with strong demographics and less debt. We navigated the mining crash, to chalk up 25 years of growth (without a recession).  Unemployment is down to 5.6%, and interest rates are at record lows. Our dynamics at this point are super low inflation and wages growth, and intense competition, which is driving this discount cycle. Treasurer Scott Morrison says, “We continue to fight for every inch of growth in a very challenging world economy.”

Executive Outlook is upbeat, with high levels of confidence for 65% of firms, in particular:

  • Health and Aged Care, and their supply chain (like financial services).
  • The sky’s the limit in the IT space, especially in the field of big data, games and apps.
  • The manufacturing and construction firms we talked to were optimistic, with strong pipelines.
  • The waste/recycle sector is booming.
  • Education is thriving, although underemployment has a foothold, with student retention a high priority.

This is what is worrying one in five firms in Executive Outlook:

  • “A general feeling of not making any headway”.
  • “It’s almost like SME’s are in a David and Goliath battle with the big multi nationals”.

Generating new business is still our No. 1 challenge (for 3 years running), with concerns around:

  • “How do we hold onto market share and do more with less? It’s cut-throat out there”.
  • “Governments need to support SMEs, instead of competing against us in an open market”.

Hiring activity

1 in 3 firms in our group intend to hire more staff. This is our first year, ever, where NO firms in our group plan to cut numbers. Your feedback reflected a preference for temporary and casual staff, to manage peaks, troughs and new projects with greater flexibility.

Skill shortages

Skill shortages have crept back, for 35% of us (that was pre-train drivers. Let’s hope we can get them back on track).

We identified pockets of demand for:

  • Qualified, experienced accountants (and credit controllers).
  • Experienced doctors, nurses and aged care professionals.
  • Operations managers.
  • Confident sales professionals, to develop business opportunities.
  • Web developers, coders, and digital marketers who can hit the ground running.
  • Cybersecurity specialists, to tackle hackers, and inside leaks.
  • Good plumbers are as rare as hen’s teeth (it remains to be seen whether robots can fix blocked pipes).

Top Office barometer

We’re finding the call is for great communicators with transferable skills, who are sales focussed, tech-savvy and fully engaged in the business. The market is moving faster than a year ago, so this is a good time to look at your candidate’s transferable skills – beyond previous roles to what they want now.  It is easier to train in technical skills, but much harder to train in “soft skills” like leadership and people skills.  We find that:

  • Candidates withdraw (or accept other offers) when processes are too long. So, if you’ve seen someone who’s a strong match, put the wheels in motion straight away.

Digital disruption

To an extent, we found digital disruption has already hit, with back office cuts in the order of 10%. Purchase orders and registration stickers are so yesterday. Instead, we’re embracing paperless offices.

We talked to you about the changing nature of front-line roles. They are still our Director of 1st impressions, but not as a dedicated role. Silos are out, in favour of broader skills, to work across the business.

Routine jobs are still in the firing line. The latest CEDA report found over 5 million jobs risk being replaced by computers in the next 5 years (almost 40% of our workforce).

Artificial Intelligence has broken free of factories, to solve complex problems that target highly qualified people. Whether you’re an accountant, lawyer, real estate (or a recruiter), these are knowledge-based roles. We’re all vulnerable.

When it comes to cars, the autonomous Tesla is here. It can pick you up, back out of your drive and even check you’re awake. They sit 5 metres apart and never crash, so we won’t need 6 lane highways, insurance, traffic lights, panel beaters or mechanics. Governments will lose millions in speeding fines. They’re all electric, so cities will be quieter. We won’t need a car – we’ll just catch a ride.  (Personally, I think it’s terrifying.. The fatal crash in America, between a driverless Tesla and a truck, proved that computers fail, and driverless cars can crash. We’re trapped in a fantasy if we think otherwise).

In recruitment, the future is to brain blueprint successful people in specific roles. When their brains light up in certain ways to questions, the robot can use this data to find people whose brains respond in similar ways. Imagine a robot telling someone why their piercings won’t cut it (for their dream role)? We’re better at social skills and negotiating than robots (well, so far).

Imagine a world where you just download a design from the cloud, and print whatever you want, with a 3D printer? Dentists can now scan your teeth, and design a crown in the perfect shape for you, while you wait.

As for whether technology steals or creates more jobs, your verdict was that it helps us innovate and enrich people’s roles. The real value of automation is in raising productivity, with less errors and a safer workplace.  This frees us up to plan ahead, and grow core business.

“Technology enables us to be smarter. They’ve talked about Armageddon for years, but people want to deal with people”.

Robot proof jobs

Demographer, Bernard Salt, found job creation has outstripped job losses by 10:1 since 2000.

  • 80% of jobs are now in services. We’ve become wealthier, paving the way for more personal trainers, beauticians, therapists (and baristas have tripled in the past decade).
  • Education is robot proof. The essence of teaching is deep expertise and complex interactions. Even with on-line learning, that won’t change.
  • There’s sustained growth across health and aged care (and the supply chain), as a tsunami of retirees head for the exit door. We’re keen to age with vitality, and will also need finance specialists to take us through.
  • IT specialists who can connect big data, market products on-line and create platforms to integrate a dispersed workforce have the world at their fingertips.
  • Business is wrapped tighter than ever in compliance. Last year, 70% of our group talked about the cost to resource these ever-shifting platforms. This growing trend opens doors for legal, finance and compliance professionals.
  • We will always need skilled electricians, carpenters and plumbers. As for robots styling our hair, I have a feeling hairdressers are safe.

We can get the jump on robots

Our emotional intelligence can beat robots any day, and we’ll need it, to tune into the kaleidoscope of human emotions, and adapt. Our creativity and social skills are at the heart of our advantage over robots. As for technical skills, make Excel your best friend and learn to manipulate it for all it’s worth. That’s how you future-proof your career.

I wrote this presentation at the beach (just me, my laptop and my dog).  All I needed was a wireless connection to share data across our network – that’s it. There’s a lot to be said for the freedom and flexibility (and my dog doesn’t argue). However, our research uncovered a sense of social isolation, and disconnection from our tribe. Technology delivers us a better quality of life, and cheaper things, but people will get crunched in other ways as well.

“We celebrate STEM, but what about older people that have everything invested in their business? There goes 40 years of my life, with staff, family and mortgages– programmed out of existence by some young programmer with no ties”.

It’s a powerful conversation.  If machines keep taking over, will there be enough work to go around? Companies are pushed on margins and lean on technology ahead of people to stay profitable.

Underemployment already has a foothold, with a huge shift towards part-time work.  ABS unemployment has fallen to 5.6%. It’s a free kick for governments to spin the headline, but, when you drill down, employment’s not that great. Only part-time jobs are growing. The quality of jobs is more precarious.

We talked to the schools in our group, to find out how we are reshaping education. Coding, digital literacy and STEM are the next layer, so young learners can control technology and write programs to compete for jobs. They will learn transferable skills, problem solving and resilience for a flexible career.

What’s ahead?

Smaller, nimble companies, with headcounts of 5–15, are likely to be the way of the future. They will exploit technology, with a strategic focus back to community and relationship partnering.

Nothing comes close to carving a niche you’re are passionate about and giving your customers the best experience. We’re going back to a time when young people will create their own career from scratch. Where we’re going, entitlement mindsets won’t cut it, because the opportunities won’t exist unless you create them.

More family businesses will pass down the line in coming years. They adopt their own unique character as new generations move in. I’ve lived and breathed our family business at the TOP for much of my life. We train people to help them achieve their dreams, and source the best talent for our clients. Belinda has led TOP into the next generation, through all the winds of change. It’s both exciting and inspiring.

In the end, it’s what we do with change that counts, and our own resilience and curiosity that sets its course of peril or opportunities.

To our Executive Outlook group, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and diversity to make this possible.

Jan Gadsden