Almost two-thirds of Australian students are being trained for jobs that will vanish or look completely different in the future, a statistic that is “deeply alarming” and warrants the “serious” assessment of the vocational education sector.
New research commissioned by the Foundation for Young Australians reveals 58 per cent of students and 71 per cent of vocational education students are on a career path that may disappear or be fundamentally rerouted.
“This is deeply alarming because not only are they studying and collecting debts for futures that don’t exist but no one is telling them these futures don’t exist,” foundation chief executive Jan Owens said.
The New Work Order report, released today, also analysed 405 occupations in Australia to show 60 per cent of all workers will need to be able to configure and use digital systems or build digital technology.
It is no longer enough to just be a “digital native” who can use technology to communicate or perform tasks.
“This is not as simple as just being able to turn on a computer,” Ms Owens said.
“As it stands, we are waiting until Year 9 to start serious digital skills training, which is way too late. We should be starting in primary school.”
The report makes clear that Australians aged 15-24 are disproportionately affected by the tectonic shift in the way jobs are automated, globalised and shared, with low-skill labouring, retail and administration jobs hardest-hit.
Ms Owens also said that typical young Australian starting part-time work today would be employed in 17 different jobs spanning five careers over their lifetime.
“This doesn’t have to be a bad story if we get the training right,” she said. “But there are risks. For example, hard-won protections in the labour market such as wages and sick leave are all up for grabs in the new environment.”
The proportion of unskilled men of all ages exiting the labour force has jumped from 20 per cent in 1990 to 28 per cent last year.
Women are participating at much higher rates and will experience more growth as personal caring roles in the aged and disability sector double or triple in the decades ahead.
At this point, automation can only replace simple, routine tasks, although the complexity of these increases over time.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor David Autor published an analysis this month of the “polarisation” of jobs in the US economy, in theJournal of Economic Perspectives.
Between 1979 and 2012, jobs growth had been concentrated at the low-skilled end of the spectrum with some growth in high-skilled fields and a gutting of work in the middle, although Professor Autor says this will not continue indefinitely.
“Whatever the future holds, the present clearly offers a resurgence of automation anxiety,” the professor writes.
“Automation does indeed substitute for labour ... however, (it) also complements labour.”
The Foundation for Young Australians recommends a greater level of incubator investment to help young entrepreneurs and the appointment of a “freelance tsar” to monitor jobs in the collaborative economy.
At the least, the foundation says, the vocational education sector needs retooling.
“(It) might be failing to appropriately prepare young people and we need to seriously assess its utility in the future of work,” the report says.