Jobs of the future

| September 2, 2015

How do you go about finding out what the right job is for you as a young student? Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb AC says you need to tackle the future with the skills and attitudes to make your opportunities.

If you are a fifteen year old student today you can expect to be working in the year 2070 – assuming that people still work, that the current retirement age still stands, and that you are in in need of a job. What do you think your job is going to be? How would you go about finding out, if you wanted to do all you could to be prepared?

In all likelihood, your research would start with the Graduate Destination Survey, the report that reliably informs economists that people trained in science are surplus to the needs of the economy, because some of them don’t have jobs a few months after completing their studies.

But perhaps you have a little more imagination, and you don’t consider the entry level jobs and starting salaries for 2015 to be any reliable guide to the needs and opportunities of 2025, 2050 or 2070.

So you cast your mind towards the future rather than the immediate past. You notice that the economy is changing, that many jobs are less secure, that people who do things in unconventional ways often seem to thrive. You feel the energy and excitement in new industries – industries that your parents barely register, but you know to be opportunities for your generation to seize. You want to be part of that world and well-positioned for a rewarding career.

But you worry, too: about the challenges ahead and your country’s capacity to keep up the pace. You worry about where the jobs will come from, when the old economic opportunities aren’t opportunities any more, and the new advantages have to be built on knowledge, ideas and skills. You wonder how good you need to be to be good enough, when people and jobs can move freely, and automation means many jobs won’t be done by humans at all. You have a myriad of choices but no safe paths of the kind your grandparents probably knew.

What do you decide?

No-one has perfect insight to the future, and no-one can offer definitive advice to every young person trying to make their place in it. I do know that avoiding the issue as a society will not serve us or the next generation well.

We have to start adjusting now to the reality of a world in which science and technology are the keys to economic advantage; and literacy in these fields will be expected of us all.

We don’t all need to be scientists. The future will call for creative thinkers, compassionate carers and inquiring minds in many fields. But ‘she’ll be right’ won’t serve us well, not when performance and participation in science in schools continues to slide, when a far more energetic culture of innovation is needed in business, and when new thinking is needed in our approach to research.

We need to tackle the future with the skills and attitudes to make our opportunities. That has to centre on a renewed commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It must go beyond enthusiasm for pilot programmes and become the default setting of Australian education, industry and government.

It shouldn’t take a fifteen year old to persuade us.