The Changing World of Work and Recruitment

Technology is rapidly changing our world, including our jobs and the way we seek employment. People often ask how these changes will affect them, and whether robots or computers will replace them.

Changes in technology is not a new issue. New technologies which have emerged in the past, such as the printing press or the steam engine, have led to some jobs disappearing while new jobs have been created and others have changed. Importantly, the productivity growth associated with technological innovation typically creates more jobs than it displaces. So what can we expect from the changes we are seeing today?

The impact of technology on jobs

Technological improvements often mean that tasks which were previously done by a human can instead be done by a machine. One approach to thinking about the potential impact of automation on jobs focuses on two separate aspects.

  • Whether jobs are routine or non-routine, that is, whether the job follows explicit rules which could be easily specified in computer code to be accomplished by machines.

  • Whether jobs are manual or cognitive, that is, whether the job relates to physical labour (manual) or knowledge work (cognitive).

Which jobs are most susceptible to automation?

The jobs which are the most susceptible to automation are those which are routine, and the proportion of people employed in such jobs is decreasing.

Employment by Skill Type*

This line chart shows the proportion of Australia’s workforce employed by skill type from 1986 to 2016. The chart has 4 skills types (routine-manual, routine cognitive, non-routine manual and non-routine cognitive). The chart shows that the proportion of jobs which are routine has fallen during this period, while the share of jobs which are non-routine has risen.

* non-seasonally adjusted. Source: ABS; RBA

Routine manual jobs in controlled environments are the easiest to automate. For example, factories and assembly lines have become increasingly automated, reducing the need for Factory Process Workers in the Manufacturing industry.

Since the early 2000s, there has also been a steady decline in the proportion of people working in routine cognitive jobs (such as Bookkeepers and Accounting Clerks), with advances in computing technology exposing a new category of jobs to the possibility of automation. For example, some organisations are using computers to make quick investment decisions (algorithmic trading) or provide automated online customer support. Technology has also made it possible for some routine cognitive jobs to be undertaken in other parts of the world where labour costs are lower. A good example is call centre work.

By contrast to the decline of routine work, non-routine employment in Australia has steadily grown. These occupations (such as Chefs, Teachers, and Software and Application Programmers) are less susceptible to automation because they often require creativity, complex thinking, managerial experience or a human presence. The fastest growing non‑routine jobs are in the services industries, particularly Health Care and Social Assistance, Professional, Scientific and Technical Services and Education and Training.

There are limits to what we can automate

While it is feasible to automate a job or task, it does not mean it will be automated. Sometimes the cost of doing so, relative to wages, may be prohibitive. Jobs that remain difficult and costly to automate include those involving social interaction (such as Aged and Disabled Carers) or creative intelligence (such as Architect), and occupations that are highly unpredictable (such as Plumbers and Gardeners).

What will happen to future jobs?

Technology will continue to change the nature of work. The trend of non-routine jobs having an increased share of total employment is likely to continue. While technology is decreasing the demand for some occupations, it is also creating opportunities through the need for workers to develop, use or supervise the operation of new technologies. For example, new jobs such as 3D Printing Designers or Big Data Analysts will emerge.

Existing jobs will change too, with less time spent on automatable tasks and with a greater focus on using cognitive skills (see chart below). Future technological improvements are likely to expand automation to jobs in less structured environments. Some effects could be seen in the near future, such as changes to the nature of call or contact centre work through the use of automated customer service assistants. Other effects are a little further away, such as the likely impact of automated vehicle technology on Automobile Drivers and Delivery Drivers.

Changes in types of tasks performed by Australian workers

This chart shows the average share of time spent on 6 categories of work activity in an average week of an Australian worker for the years 2010,2015 and 2030.The categories are interpersonal,creative and decision-making,information synthesis,information analysis,unpredictable physical,predictable physical.It shows that an increasing share of time is being spent on non-automatable tasks (interpersonal,creative and decision-making,information synthesis),while decreasing share of spent on automatable tasks.

Source: AlphaBeta, The Automation Advantage (O*NET, AlphaBeta Analysis)

What does this mean for job seekers?

Over the course of your working life, you are likely to have several careers across a range of occupations. Employers have an increasing focus on transferable skills which enable workers to adapt to changing workforce demands. Job seekers who can show they have these skills, in addition to role-specific expertise, will have an advantage in recruitment processes. These skills include digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and presentation skills. Aptitudes such as adaptability, resilience and entrepreneurial skills will also be important.

The way in which employers seek workers is also changing. Internet recruitment has been commonplace for some time, supplementing or replacing traditional methods such as newspaper advertisements. Employers in some occupations are increasingly using social media or mobile apps as a way of connecting with potential workers. It is important to understand the recruitment processes in your occupation and you may need to adapt your job search techniques accordingly. Many employers now use technology to research candidates online, conduct video interviews, or simulate work environments, so make sure your online profile is positive.