This sixth report in BCEC’s Focus on the States series looks at the changing nature of employment, the quality of work, and considers the role of technology in the jobs of the future. The report also sheds light on patterns of employment and hours worked across industry sectors, and brings empirical evidence to bear on the extent to which our work patterns are likely to evolve into the future.

The report highlights the critical imperative to ensure that workers – particularly lowskilled men – can access retraining and education opportunities that smooth their transition to new, higher skilled jobs, or into other forms of employment.

The share of robots to employees in Australia has tripled in the last 20 years, but still lags substantially behind the US and Europe. This suggests that Australian businesses have the capacity for a significant expansion of automation to take on tasks currently delivered by people. Estimates suggesting that up to 4 in 10 jobs are likely to be ‘eliminated’ or replaced by automation are overstated. The report also considers the important role for education and training in preparing for tomorrow’s world of work, and in capitalising on the benefits of increased automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

In moving towards the labour market of the future, there will inevitably be a transformation in the nature of work, and the workplace. We can expect ‘traditional’ jobs and workplace orthodoxies to give way to new ways of working, and modes of employment. People are likely to change jobs more regularly in the future, to work fewer hours, or to hold more than a single job at any point in their working career.

But the workplace of the future, and the opportunities it affords to businesses and society, comes with responsibilities and risks. One of the greatest challenges in preparing for the future of work is to ensure that no one is left behind. The report finds that job insecurity has risen in recent years, more so among men. Men are also working fewer hours, and real growth in hourly pay has stalled since 2014, particularly among labourers, and machinery operators and drivers.

Freelancers and independent contractors generally don’t benefit from the employment protections afforded to permanent or fixed-term employees. As a freelancer, if you’re sick, you don’t earn. And freelancers or own-account workers bear the full responsibility - and cost - of saving for retirement.

Our report develops a unique index of precarious employment for Australia, combining indicators of job insecurity, employment conditions, irregularity of employment and lack of control of work-life balance. We find that precarious employment has increased for both genders since 2009, but more rapidly for men than women.

The services sector continues to grow as a major player in Australia’s future of work, something that is reflected in an exceptional growth in higher education enrolments in fields of health, medical sciences and education.

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Focus on the States Series, No. 6/18