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The future of work is surrounded by anxiety: will robots take my job? What value will I bring? But, for Western Australia, the future of work is a bright one – if we act today.
Our study, A new WAy, outlines a raft of economic opportunities for our state. These are emerging industries derived from both WA’s comparative advantage and global trends, and offer the most attractive opportunities for the state over the next decade.
These clusters are embryonic by nature; green shoots of opportunity. They will require the right workforce in place to grow. But this alone won’t spark success. Upskilling our workforce into roles that will weather the changing nature of work is key to ensuring the future of WA is a prosperous one.
What skills will Western Australians need to take advantage of these clusters of opportunity? And how can we best prepare them for the change?
The head and the heart
While the robots are coming, they won’t take our jobs. This idea is what we call the lump of labour fallacy; a misconception that there are a set number of jobs available for workers and thus automation will translate into unemployment. Instead, we know technology raises productivity and improved productivity creates more jobs.
What will change is the nature of these jobs. Our study, The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human, found human skills are already moving to the forefront of workforce needs. It will continue to be the case as automation improves.
Increasingly, manual work ‘of the hands’ is being displaced and work ‘of the head and the heart’ – human skills, such as creativity, empathy and collaboration – are coming into focus. Machines cannot easily replicate these skills.
This is why our clusters are so critical for WA. They rely on these ‘human’ skills to succeed – and in the process will provide a greater supply of future-ready roles. The longer an industry is established, the more likely it will become routine. In developing nascent industries, there is a greater focus on non-routine or human work.
New roles don’t have long established processes to follow and to create them from scratch requires human skills, such as creativity and problem solving. Building networks and relationships are also critical in developing new industries and tend to rely on the skills of the heart – such as customer service and interpersonal communication.
Many of the sectors we’ve identified have technology front and centre. WA has a strong legacy in automation thanks to the mining and resources sectors, and our clusters build on this foundation. We expect these roles to focus heavily on the skills of the head and the heart, as they embrace automation.
We can see this shift already in existing industries. A number of mine sites are quickly automating truck driving to improve safety. Given this role requires deep understanding of the limitations and challenges of the trucks on site, former drivers are well suited to oversee other areas, such as controlling a fleet of driverless trucks remotely from a city office.
However, we know we’ll have many more truck drivers than remote operator roles. It’s why our clusters are important: they not only address how we can take technology and improve mine safety, but how we can apply our human skills to new industries. For example, how can our learnings from remote operations in the resources sector be applied to other sectors, such as farming and road transportation? And how can we export this know-how to other jurisdictions? This is the critical piece in building many more jobs of the future for West Australians.
Transition for the future of work
In new industries, it can be difficult to find employees with sector experience. By default, there will be a heightened focus on transferrable skills to staff these new clusters of opportunity.
While all the clusters are different, they’ll face the same initial hurdles of plugging into markets overseas, organising the production of services and building the right structure for business to take advantage of the opportunities. These skills can be found across a range of industries.
Increasingly, we’ll see education providers create options to certify these transferrable skills and make it easier for workers to transition across industries. These mechanisms will be critical in providing a vibrant economy for the future.
But to make it a reality, we must start preparing today. Our studies are a framework for government and business to understand where to focus their efforts. Supporting workers through the shift will be key to success.
WA can boost its economy by focusing on industries of advantage – and it rests on having the right skills to help it bloom. The future of work doesn’t have to be scary. We can turn it into opportunity, but only if we act.
We’re still in the early stages of this process. Already, it’s clear that opportunity is there for the taking – as long as we get it right. We’re on the brink of a new, prosperous future for WA. To make it real we must work together.
James is a director in the Perth Deloitte Access Economics practice where he focuses on both mining and the public sector. Prior to joining Deloitte, James worked as a management consultant for both government clients and ASX listed companies following 17 years as an economist in UK government. During his time in the UK James worked across a numerous policy areas, most recently in international roles at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and HM Treasury.