17/10/2019 - 14:31

The future of work: why a ‘wait and see’ approach is no longer an option

17/10/2019 - 14:31


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The future of work: why a ‘wait and see’ approach is no longer an option

One in three workers are concerned about how much advances in technology could disrupt their current role and function at work. And understandably so. After spending years studying or developing skills in a role, it is a confronting thought that a job that provides a sense of identity and financial security could become redundant.

As more organisations embrace the benefits of digital transformation and look for ways to create greater efficiencies, this sense of uncertainty is likely to increase. So, if this is the case, why are employers still failing to respond systemically to the impact this disruption is having on their workers?

In order to understand why we are witnessing a period of inertia when it comes to the future of work we recently conducted research with the business and government sectors to identify the underlying reasons why the response to impending workforce issues is riddled with complacency. And just as importantly, we wanted to examine what opportunities there are for employers and employees to take an active role in addressing the potential disruption that the future of work represents.

Ernst & Young Australia’s report, Stop Talking About the Future of Work, found that whilst almost two thirds of employers are actively investing in technology, they are failing to respond to the impacts those investments are having on their workers.

Moreover, despite it being more efficient to reskill a workforce than it is to replace it, the fact is less than a third of employers are redesigning job roles and reskilling workers in preparation for tasks becoming automated and redundant. This means that Australia could soon reach a tipping point for which we are not prepared and that will put wages, jobs, and growth at risk.

We cannot afford to underestimate the gravity of this scenario. However, if workers actively consider what their roles could look like in the future and invest in the education or experience needed to fill them, and businesses break through their decision paralysis and complacency to take active steps towards equipping their workers with the right skills -- the full benefits of technology can be realised.

In its simplest form, employees and businesses need to be educated on the productivity gains and benefits of technologies like blockchain, AI, and machine learning, as well as, the new capabilities needed to support these advancements. We need to help the current workforce develop future relevant skills and assist businesses in remodelling to facilitate the technology needed to keep pace globally.

Facing the uncomfortable truths

While we are all but suffocating under an avalanche of content on the ‘future of work’ – most of it is white noise. Real solutions to workplace challenges are thin on the ground. Our research found that complacency or confusion pervades both upper levels of business and government, as well as the broader workforce.   

Some of the reasons behind this include:

  • Lack of understanding of the future skills needed
    Only 56 per cent of employers reported that they understand the capacity and capabilities their workforce will need to deliver work in the future. While 63 per cent are still in the early stages of developing their workforce planning capability to effectively forecast future skills requirements.


  • Wishful thinking by employers
    61 per cent of employers believe the market will deliver them the capabilities they require – despite the fact that numerous digital skills are already in chronic under-supply against accelerating demand.
  • L&D focused on the roles of yesterday
    L&D is geared towards the jobs of today, not tomorrow. This results in around A$4 billion wasted investment in misdirected L&D in Australia and NZ$0.25 billion in New Zealand. Crucial funds that should be used for future upskilling.

A pathway forward

What we do know is that the skills needed to support emerging tasks and roles are not going to magically appear. It is clear that a solution will require business, government and the education sector to come together to address the immediate need for future-readiness. First steps in moving towards a solution include:

  • Guidance on how jobs will change and the skills needed to be future-ready. This will require various departments of education, business and industry undertaking analysis and providing real-time insights that provide concrete direction on the changing nature of work looks like in the sector.
  • Organisations working swiftly to build the transition foundations they need to adapt to changing skills and roles. This requires a greater focus on a learning culture, career pathways, skills planning and consistent and ongoing communication about the future within an organisation.
  • The education ecosystem (institutions, organisations, providers) working together to offer agile, adaptable offerings so that continuous, on-demand and self-directed learning can become the norm.

The key takeaway from all of this is that we cannot sit back. We must proactively manage the transition to new ways of working and develop a plan that will see us emerge economically stronger – as individuals, as organisations and as a nation.


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