Secure your future – learn and unlearn just as quickly

Blgpic2The question our candidates are asking right now is “Where are we at with the job market”? We are finding it is up, down and all over the place (almost in a rut).  The collision of technology and jobs, fewer opportunities and youth unemployment all come into play. We explore the mindset and skills that will secure your future – keep reading…

Most economists are tipping below trend growth for some time yet, despite some optimistic signs.

  • Public sector hiring has been buoyant, with strong demand for education, healthcare and finance specialists.
  • Construction and housing projects have picked up (although the employment spike from that hasn’t eventuated yet).
  • Manufacturing is still slow, and there are widespread concerns about the future of mining and automobile sectors.
  • Part-time roles are driving the lion’s share of employment growth.
  • The lower Australian dollar is likely to help the economy, support Queensland and help compensate for slipping commodity prices.

Other leading indicators look quite promising.

  • ANZ job ads in December rose by 1.8%, for the seventh consecutive month (up 11.4% over the course of 2014). Chief economist Warren Hogan said “The good news is the economy continues to produce new opportunities. The bad news is this has not been quite enough to counteract the flow of new workers into the economy plus the on-going loss of jobs in certain sectors.”
  • Roy Morgan’s poll showed employment reached a record high for December (driven by part-time work). Their research showed unemployment to be 10.9% (well above the ABS rate), while those underemployed rose to 9.7%. Gary Morgan said “The overall picture of the Australian labour market shows an economy with a large amount of under-utilised labour .. The Abbott Government must look seriously at industrial relations reform – starting with the abolition of weekend and public holiday penalty rates”.

Basically, new jobs are not keeping pace with demand, which signals more pain ahead for job seekers in 2015. The participation rate is equally important, and sits at multi-decade lows of around 65%. This is a sign that more people stopped looking for work, lost their jobs, or are retiring.

Over the past 2 decades, we experienced a once in a lifetime mining boom, coupled with strong growth. As the first wave of ‘Baby Boomers’ retired in 2011, participation started its decline, despite a drift towards working longer. Nevertheless, the ageing of our population is likely to weigh on labour force participation and economic growth.

Of greater concern, though, is youth unemployment (for 15 to 24 year olds), which sits at 14%. This is more about lack of opportunities (rather than a lack of motivation). There are simply not enough jobs being created to absorb population growth.

No ‘tough love’ approach can work if the opportunities don’t exist and right now, the labour market for young Australians is the weakest it has been in 2 decades. The welfare solution, as it stands, effectively punishes the unemployed for having the audacity to become unemployed during tough times.

Among the serious long-term consequences of this is skills atrophy, with a generation of workers less skilled than the generation it replaces. Young Australians are integral to boosting productivity and growth in decades to come.

A new report by AMP We Can Work it Out spells out these issues (based on ABS and census data).

High youth unemployment, combined with an ageing population, means Australia has to take action to prevent a productivity crisis. Baby Boomers will take knowledge out of the workforce when they retire, and high youth unemployment means the younger generation may not have the workplace experience to fill that gap.

The report suggests that the solution is vocational education, to give younger Australians the experience they need.  More jobseekers are going this way, with nearly 60% of working age people holding a vocational degree in 2013, compared to 45% in 2001.

Youth unemployment is now recognised as a massive economic issue by all sides of Queensland Government, which is heartening. Creating incentives for new jobs and growth is a great place to start.

What happened to all the jobs?

At the Top, we continue to witness the disappearance of many low-skilled jobs. People are asking where the new jobs will come from. The impact of technology on almost all forms of labour makes this era more disruptive than ever.

Process workers are being replaced by technology at a pace never seen before. Almost any “process” can be computerised, regardless of whether it is housed in a robot or embedded somewhere out of sight.

Self-serve options are a newer form of artificial intelligence that undermines jobs. I often queue at self-service checkouts to pay for my shopping. I’m quite happy to scan and pack myself, and not talk about “how my day’s been”. The machine works days on end without a break, and rarely give you a hard time. My new year’s resolution is to STOP, because I am indirectly undermining a cashier’s job.

It is sad to watch local DVD stores shut down on mass, as new technologies replace them. The days of interacting with people to rent a movie appear to be numbered.

How many times have you visited a bank lately? The ease of using smart-phones for banking (and everything else) has led to fewer jobs. Paying bills online and ATMs are a new reality we take for granted. Who needs real people?

The market is changing so fast, there is no guarantee high salary jobs won’t be computerised out of existence. Actually, this presents an incentive to create technology that is cheaper and faster. As an example, driverless trucks have been introduced in West Australian mines to replace expensive employees.

Robots are now seeping into other industries as well. Wired magazine recently led with the headline: “Robots have mastered news writing. Goodbye journalism.”

If machines can take over so many jobs, what can you do to secure your future?

The good news is that, despite this collision of technology and jobs, the real value of business still derives from people. Our combined knowledge and skills are the essence of what we do, make and sell. The reasons might be economic, social, nostalgic or a case of robots not being practical. Either way, great communication and team skills will never go out of fashion.

There are generic skills that will be highly valued, but before we get there, cultivating the right mindset and spade-loads of curiosity is the first step to positioning yourself in a globally connected world.

This starts with cultivating an open mind and new, unconventional approaches to the challenges we face, in order to find workable solutions. Our new era is very much about integrity, resilience and operating outside of your comfort zone to achieve outcomes.

Children are naturally curious about everything (perhaps we need to rediscover that). Curiosity has always been the way for creative, high-achievers, and always will be.

In his book Five Minds for the Future, Harvard professor Howard Gardner outlines the cognitive skills that future leaders will need, based on:

A Disciplined Mind, to focus attention, drill down to the essence of a subject and perceive the simple truth of it.

A Creative and Synthesising Mind: This level combines multiple ideas across different disciplines to create innovative and useful outcomes, which can be communicated to others.

The Respectful Mind: This values the differences in people, and seeks positive ways to interact, and overcome the “us and them” instinct that still creates so much conflict among people.

The Ethical Mind: This level of thinking focuses on the big picture, and how personal needs align with community, and the greater good.

All of this leads to the question; what jobs will be in demand?

We already filter a deluge of data day-in, day-out (oh for the simple life). Future workers will need the cognitive skills to filter and manage this, and find solutions.

A host of new technologies will emerge, to create and communicate content. Each time you go online, you leave a digital trail. IT specialists with the digital expertise to critically assess content, model ideas and market products to customers on-line will be invaluable.

Similarly, those with the right virtual team skills will thrive. Strong collaboration tools are an integral part of virtual project teams, and will be supported by new technologies we don’t even know about yet.

Business systems and information security analysts, robotics specialists and mobile app, database and JavaScript developers are likely to fly.

The ability to analyse and make sense of big data sets and convert them into useful information will be at a premium.

Procedural Architects who can design virtual environments and experiences will be sought after. These are the minds behind Google, Youtube, Facebook, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter and eBay.

Healthcare The ageing population and rising health costs will create a myriad of jobs for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, veterinarians, psychologists, and health professionals. Healthcare and social assistance will account for one in every four new jobs created between now and 2017, Department of Employment figures show.

Accountants Number crunches may have been the nerds at school, but now they are the top dogs. Department of Employment figures show there will be 21,400 new accountant jobs in the 5 years to 2017. They will also need to demonstrate strong leadership, strategic and interpersonal skills.

Across other disciplines, engineers, lawyers, financial advisers, project managers, school teachers, market research analysts, sales reps and construction workers (particularly bricklayers and carpenters) are all areas of need. Actually, you can‘t go wrong with a trade. I recently heard that plumbers have become the dad’s army of the Australian workforce, with an average age of 55 (workforce average is 39). People will always need water, so there is always work.

The new Australian Industry Report 2014, (Office of Chief Economist) looked at a range of economic forces that will drive structural changes in the medium term. They found:

…occupations most at risk of computerisation are those that involve routine tasks, such as bank tellers, clerks, bookkeepers and even qualified pharmacists (78.6% of whom have at least a bachelor’s degree).

A tertiary education does not guarantee a safeguard against automation. By contrast, some of the safest jobs were those that did not require advanced education – including truck drivers, electricians and waiters.

The skills we will need in 20 years time do not yet exist. Cultivating new skills, via reading, mentoring and targeted courses has never been more relevant. The core competency of the future is an ability to learn and unlearn just as quickly. Your career depends upon it.

Candidates need to be wise, in understanding where roles are going and where the needs are. Do they have the skills-set to match? If not, what can they be doing to access training and up-skilling programs?

Jan Gadsden