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Pathways to real jobs in a changing work landscape

Kasy Chambers |  17 November 2016


In Australia, industry change and unprecedented technological progress have seen an automation of jobs that were previously done by people.

Corey FredricksonIn Rick Measham's recent piece in Eureka Street discussing the need for innovation in employment, he made a few interesting points about what this means for employment in this country. He asks: 'What are we planning for a society in which there is no paid work for most people?'

Innovation is absolutely necessary in this debate, according to Fairfax workplace editor Anna Patty, who told ABC's Sunday Night program last week:

'I think there is a real policy vacuum. I went to a breakfast recently where Michaelia Cash, the employment minister, was basically saying that in 15 years' time, 40 per cent of existing jobs will be automated, and Australia needs to embrace the way Air B&B and Uber do business ... but there is not a lot of detail in how we adjust to this new future of work.'

Now, I can admit to swearing on occasion at automated checkout machines at Coles and Woolworths. Perhaps I crave the human contact, and perhaps machines simply need to get better at recognising unexpected items in the bagging area. But if these are the way of the future, we need to imagine pathways for those who used to staff the checkouts.

Research needs to determine how to get people who want to work into meaningful work that provides for their basic human needs and that is at their skill level.

In the Jobs Availability Snapshot, a research report that informs Anglicare's annual State of the Family Report, a comprehensive analysis of actual job advertisement numbers show the proportion of higher skill level jobs available in the Australian labour market has grown over the past ten years, while the proportion for people with lower level skills and experience has fallen, and the divide is growing.

For May 2016, the Department of Employment's Vacancy Report showed 37 per cent of all positions advertised were at the top skill level, and only 13 per cent were for skill level 5.


"It is very difficult for people receiving welfare to hear that they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when there is a less than ten per cent chance  they will find the sort of employment they need to move beyond welfare."


The human face is what really illustrates this situation. Corey Fredrickson (pictured) has received housing through a St Vincent de Paul's refuge in Canberra and food assistance through Anglicare. Corey did not complete year ten, and has had a number of odd jobs since leaving school. Corey is passionate about gaming, and will often spend hours on the computer, filling in time after losing his job recently. He says he would love to do some training in gaming, but that his Job Network provider didn't have the money to support him in such training.

It wasn't their fault of course, Job Network providers receive government funding and are necessarily conditioned as to what training can be sponsored. But what happens when the training they can provide has no professional application in the workforce and fails to cater to the skills and interests of the individual either? Arbitrary training might be provided in the form of VET, but it becomes little more than scrap paper when the jobs don't exist.

The gaming industry is probably one that will grow. If we think innovatively, IT based upskilling would be a good path for Corey.

So, what should people do when the job market radically changes around them? How can the needs of employers and employees be met as people's capacity to work ebbs and flows over a lifetime? 

As Measham suggests, perhaps not everyone should be pushed to seek work in the traditional sense. Welfare organisations like Vinnies, Communities at Work, Salvos and Anglicare see clients on a regular basis that will always need some sort of financial support. Their cases are varied of course, but a society which attempts to force these people into jobs that don't exist is unnecessarily harsh and lacks imagination. One solution, as Measham argued, might lie in the direction of a guaranteed income.

Recent moves by the federal government seem to be heading in the opposite direction, however, looking to penalise welfare recipients, force longer waiting periods, and reduce allowances like Newstart, a payment that already isn't enough to live on.

It is very difficult for people receiving welfare to hear that they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when structurally, there is a less than ten per cent chance that they will actually find the sort of employment they need to move beyond welfare.

In fact what we need is a complete overhaul of the welfare system, so that it embraces innovative ideas for those who will not be able to transition into work. Such an overhaul would be served well by creating training opportunities and employment options that are based in real-life industries where there is growth; and by developing holistic policy that doesn't simply bandage a wound, but treat its cause.


Kasy ChambersKasy Chambers is Executive Director of Anglicare Australia. On 31 October, Anglicare Australia released their flagship publication which this year focuses on employment and is titled Positions Vacant: When the jobs aren't there.

Post-script: Shortly after the writing of this article, Corey found employment, in a games shop.



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Submitted comments

Also employment agencies have become an industry supported by government funding. Are they keeping people on their books knowing that they are not able to work because the agency does not want to give up the funding?

Sheelah Egan 21 November 2016

The case study based on Corey's plight raises many unanswered questions. His plight is understandable if he were orphaned with no parental guidance, no one to feed him, no house to go home to, no one to send him to school or if he has a disability. If none of these apply, however, why leave school short of year ten? if circumstances do mean that schooling is abandoned below year ten completion then in the modern world there is no prospect of becoming a brain surgeon or rocket scientist or playing games as a job simply because you want to. This situation has always meant that unskilled labour is all that is available and there are plenty of those jobs available. Far better to encourage a start as an unskilled worker than to demand the government and every other charity should look after somebody. The world is full of success stories of those who started off with little education and support to rise on hard work, menial to begin with, to the upper echelons of society. The fact that governments are not prepared to use other peoples money to fund impractical, unproductive activities at the whim of someone's preferences for employment does not represent a "penalty" Rather it represents responsibility and may well be the goad which stimulates someone to start at the bottom (unskilled work) and it that someone has the brains and courage then he/she is capable of achieving in this country more so than in most others in the world.

john frawley 21 November 2016

John Frawley asserts " ...that unskilled labour is all that is available and there are plenty of those jobs available." Where? and how does an unemployed person find them? In Melbourne metropolitan area, who is employing unskilled labour?

Ian Fraser 23 November 2016

Thanks Kasy, It is terrible to see governments running away from supporting those who cannot find work. There will be more and more Coreys, very very quickly. And as online retail and automated checkouts increase, there will be fewer and fewer game shops hiring. Governments need to support their citizens and not vilify them for not finding work that just doesn't exist. The next 20 years will see wide-spread technological unemployment. Ignoring it is pandering to an election cycle.

Rick Measham 30 November 2016

Wonderfully provocative series on work, thankyou! The current Ken Loach film: 'I Daniel Blake', graphically illustrates the insidious way the welfare system compounds the dependency of vulnerable people who need/want to work.

Margaret O'Connor 10 January 2017

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