Relax. Worried about a robot taking your job? Find something else to worry about.  They’re going to be our friends.  This is the advice contained in a recent report released by lead author David Rumbens of Deloitte Accesss Economics.  It’s the latest in the company’s “Building the Lucky Country” series. Surely, this is what you’ve been waiting for; a future mapped out by a leading financial organisation. I spent an exhilerating afternoon reading this page turner late last week and I can’t wait to share my findings.

David explains the jobs of the future are going to require our hearts and heads. For the larger part, our hands will have to find something else to do.  As proof he explains, “Employers are already demanding different skills so that workers can do the work of the head and the heart”.   You might think that the future could involve a little less demanding on the part of our leaders and a little more consulting. After all, business’s standard operating procedure has taken us to edge of environmental catastrophe.  Though, in their typically modest way, they wouldn’t want all the credit.

The Heart Wins

Yet, the vision of this report is grand. A less sympathetic reviewer might suggest hubristic. It covers jobs; what those jobs will look like; the gender of people who’ll be doing them; the educational and training requirements of those jobs; and the attributes workers will need to acquire or retain them. 

We have heart jobs, head jobs and hand jobs.  The hand jobs tend to be routine and carried out by men.  These are the ones most in most danger of automation.  Non-routine head jobs, mostly performed by women, are the fastest growing part of the job market.  Further, Rumbens explains that this binary division hides a future of work that will see a combination of the two. This is where the notion of  Heart jobs comes in. These jobs require “interpersonal and creative” skills which are the hardest of all to mechanise. 

A Customer Service Future

Listen up, you blokes.  We are told “the existing female workforce is in the right place to benefit from these changes”.  This is great news for women in low paid professions like Aged Care.  Are they to be the centre of our new economy?  For men, the message is you will need to covet and develop the superior skills of our female friends in order to stay in the workforce. So maybe men do have some things to worry about but for women it is all up.

The skills most sought after will be human ones like customer service, sales and resolving conflicts.  The customer service element sounds like the low paid, casual jobs that women dominate now.  I wish Deloittes had fleshed that definition out a little more.  A future full of sales people fills me with dread while the growth in conflict resolution hints at dystopian cracks in this nirvana. There might get a combination of roles such as my wife found last week when an eBay purchase disappeared. She was placed in the hands of a “Customer Happiness Champion” . The sale was completed; the service was good and the conflict resolved.

This story breaks down further.  At the start of the decade we were lacking 1.2 of the skills required by the market.  Today, the average worker is missing 2 of 18 necessary skills. By the end of this decade the skill shortage will be even greater.  This is an impressive level of granularity. 

At this point, Rumbens feels the need to reinforce the fact these changes aren’t alarming.  Instead, they are liberating.  The robots are going to do the boring work and we get the challenging and interesting stuff. That is if we men can lovingly convince the women to share some of it with us.  We are yet to hear from the robots’ union on this matter. 

If the robots are to perform the tasks that we used to condemn sections of the working class to then we will also need to limit any advancement in their cognitive and emotional development.  The people who currently manage the inequality that underpins delivery of education to poor and rich schools would be ideal candidates for this project. The design of our automated friends could be modeled on the emotional range of the free market devotee without their innate cunning.

The Goldilocks Principle

Business has still more their demands.  According to the report they want their workers built according to the Goldilocks principle. Not too much experience; not too little experience but just right. Three to five years is the optimum.  Our management class is in need of 5.2 million people in this range of experience and we only have half that number now.  Happily, Rumbens states the labour market is performing well for people with the right amount of work experience but that underemployment is a major issue.  The hint throughout this document is that this problem will soon be gone…if we listen and act according to this prescription.

How? It seems the market, that currently refuses just under 2 million people the hours of work they seek (see Bill Mitchell on current labour market), will turn this around.  People will need training to meet the needs of this new world. Remember the 2 missing skills.  That assessment allows the writer to project across the nation that we are missing 23 million skills.  This is going to require more than a few of us to skill up.  Some of us will have to skill down or at least alter our expectations.  We have too many managers.  2.5 million too many and they too will need retraining to join us at the customer service counter. 

The unstated notion that the expanding profit from technological advances will be turned into jobs, rather than taken by capital as profit, is an interesting one. How this works out belongs to another time but until robots are developed with the ability to mimick customers, business will need people to buy their stuff and these people will need jobs.

Micro-credentialling

So we need spending on training and this is where things get particularly exciting. Meet Ian Harper. He is the Dean of Melbourne Business School and Deloitte Access Economics Senior Adviser. He sees an opportunity for “micro-credentialling”. Private building assessors now certify that the appropriate materials and methods have been used in the building of your house. Similarly, a micro-credential expert would assess the sound structure of your knowledge and work skills. This wouldn’t come free. So you wouldn’t want to apply for too many jobs as you’ll probably be paying to have yourself micro-credentialled. On this point, Rumbens acknowledges the major benefit of micro-credentialling would be to business that currently spends $7 billion a year on recruitment.

The importance of “On the Job” training is also vitally important because formal training is expensive. There is also a less than perfect mapping between classroom training and the needs of the workplace. This is where “On the Job” training is the preferred model.

All of the above places an enormous responsibility on our business leaders to shape our workforce and even our culture into the future. The word environment only appears in a business context. Yet, it is all presented in such a positive and confident way.

This hopeful paragraph from the Executive Summary stood out for me.

If we set up the right workplaces – with people at the centre – as a nation, we can be smarter, happier and more engaged than we are today”.

This has immediate application across all our endeavours. For example, if we build a rocket aimed at Mars today and solve all the atmospheric, logistical and transportational problems, we could be on our way there tomorrow. And with Deloitte’s fetishism about balanced budgets, I’ll bet we’d get it done while achieving a surplus.

On our way

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This article might be read in conjunction with the related story: Business Has the Answers to …. everything

Warren Ross

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