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Contributor: Ruby Lohman
The jobs of tomorrow: what skills will we need?

Rapid changes in technology are transforming how we work and the kind of jobs we do. Here we look at what future digital and technology jobs might look like.

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity,” Albert Einstein once said. And while he was referring to the atom bomb, he couldn’t have known then how prophetic he was.

Technology is changing our world at an unprecedented rate, and one of the biggest shifts is the way we work. Trends such as increased computing power, the rise of the knowledge economy, artificial intelligence and automation will have profound effects on our future workforce. They will transform industries and make some jobs obsolete.

According to a recent report by CSIRO’s digital innovation group Data61, it is estimated that 44 per cent of jobs in Australia are potentially at high risk of computerisation and automation.

However, Einstein’s statement isn’t entirely accurate today. Rather than exceeding humanity, technology can complement and enhance it, and it's creating many new jobs. Interestingly, it’s also making uniquely human traits and capabilities – such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving and creativity – more important than ever before.

The digital and tech jobs of the future

Australia’s workforce is always changing but over the next couple of decades, we’re likely to see it change even faster and more significantly. So what will future digital and tech jobs look like? Data61’s Senior Principal Scientist in Strategic and Foresight, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, says the following four jobs are just some of the new roles likely to exist.

Bigger big data analyst: The data analyst of the future will be in great demand, as the world produces ever-increasing volumes of structured and unstructured data. Most importantly, “They will be able to connect the data to corporate and government decision-making,” says Dr Hajkowicz.

Remote-controlled vehicle operators: Un-crewed vehicles (UVs) are increasingly being used by industries such as mining and the military. This will create a new workforce of people who control planes, vehicles and ships from an office in a remote location.

Customer experience experts: “In the future, we won’t have to go into a shop to buy stuff, and we won’t need to go into an office to work,” says Dr Hajkowicz. “So there’s likely to be deeper thinking around what the customer experience is.” Organisations will become more customer-centred, and customer experience experts will play a key role in making that happen.

Online chaperones: These professionals will work for individuals and businesses to protect and manage their online interests. More than just cyber security experts, they will help clients manage risks such as identity theft, reputational damage, social media bullying and harassment, and internet fraud.

The growing need for STEM skills and emotional intelligence

It almost goes without saying that Australians entering the workforce will need to be literate, numerate and digitally literate. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills are becoming increasingly crucial.

However, Dr Hajkowicz says Australian students are showing less interest in these subjects today than in the past. And according to the Office of the Chief Scientist, Australia is the only OECD country without a science or technology strategy.

‘Softer’ skills such as creativity, teamwork and problem-solving will also become crucial. These are the capabilities that machines can’t provide, and will help Australian graduates and professionals differentiate themselves from an increasingly educated and competitive global workforce, says Dr Hajkowicz.

Skilling up the next generation

Education is a critical factor in preparing the future workforce. But rather than training people to do one specific job, students need to learn the skills and ways of thinking that will allow them to keep up with the rate of change and thrive in uncertainty.

Schools need to teach children skills that robots can't emulate, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, cultural awareness and a global mindset.

Dr Hajkowicz cites creativity as a crucial skill. “We need to allow for different learning styles, create curiosity and encourage enjoyment, plus create an environment where children have scope to develop and apply their creativity,” he says. “Especially in younger levels, we should support children’s enjoyment of subjects such as math and science.”

The digital and technology jobs of the future will be more flexible, agile, networked and connected. Ultimately, the workforce of the future needs to be adaptable and creative enough to thrive in a rapidly changing world, and succeed in jobs that are as yet unimagined.

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