Future Vision

What jobs will look like in 2050


When Neil Armstrong became the first person to step on the moon in 1969, we knew humanity was headed to places, and ideas, few had yet contemplated. Global leaders in space exploration have set their sights on Mars and commercial space flights could be on the cards for paying customers of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic by the end of 2018.

Ask futurist Morris Miselowski and he will tell you, by 2050, there will be new jobs for space exploration, space mining, space travel and even space hotels. “By 2050, we will definitely be in orbit,” he says.

Society has always evolved, often thanks to new inventions. First came the wheel, then the Gutenberg press, the light bulb, the telephone … the list goes on. Now, however, we see more than one technology emerging at a time and the pace of change becoming ever more rapid. Ten years ago, social media was a concept in its infancy and web designers were still “in vogue”. Today, Miselowski says, people depend on technology, whether it’s in the shape of mobile phones or pacemakers. “I believe already that we are homo cyborgs, not homo sapiens, because we are so closely attached to technology,” he says.

The way we work and our skills are changing, too. Blue-collar jobs are being automated and white collar, including bank clerks, accountants, lawyers and even engineers seem next in line for conversion as technology increasingly becomes capable of fulfilling repetitive tasks more accurately. Mathematicians use computers to figure out numbers, biologists solve problems through computer simulation, engineers use design programs for their creations and training is increasingly conducted in a virtual world.

By 2050, the 9-to-5 office job will be a thing of the past. Jobs will be flexible and task-driven and people will have multiple income streams, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicting the next generation will have, on average, about six careers in their working life.

Tonsley Innovation District precinct director Philipp Dautel says businesses of the future will be small and agile, rather than the “large mass employers of the past”. The Tonsley innovation hub, in Adelaide’s southern suburbs is living proof of the shift away from heavy manufacturing.

The 61ha precinct was the site of Mitsubishi’s car manufacturing plant until the last car rolled off the production line in 2008. Today, it is shaping to be something more like Australia’s first Silicon Valley. Under the original factory roof, start-up programs mix with cutting-edge research, large tech companies and educational institutions. A residential precinct is being developed nearby. “At Tonsley, we are providing the workspace of the future — a place where you can work, live and play,” Dautel says. “We are providing a supportive and flexible environment and plenty of collision spaces to foster collaboration and innovation.”

Collaboration could also affect our future leadership models. UniSA’s Dr Chad Chiu says the future will move away from a masculine, hierarchical and power-differentiated model to a shared leadership model.

“More and more studies have indicated that communal or power-equalising styles are indeed more effective,” he says. “If we agree that future leaders should adopt a different management approach, our job design should correspond to the change to assist managers to better supervise employees, such as using a flatter organisational design, installing flexible working hours, better allowing working-at-home, or sharing the jobs.”

Economics is a main driver behind the constant change, according to Flinders University Professor David Powers. The head of the Centre for Knowledge and Interaction Technology at the university says automation is not “a good or bad thing”, but it is necessary to compete in a global market. It is helping the West to compete with the Third World and “sweatshops in Asia” until those countries seek to advance.

The other force driving the change is the entertainment industry. “The biggest force for development of computer power, new hardware, algorithm and technology is actually the entertainment industry,” Powers says. “The changes in technology have largely been based on the aesthetics of the experience rather than promoting new capabilities.”

At Tonsley, we are providing the workspace of the future — a place where you can work, live and play

On the northern edge of Adelaide’s CBD sits one of its most futuristic-looking buildings. Often described as the cheesegrater (because of its diamond-shaped facade elements), the SA Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) has become the core of what will soon be the largest biomedical precinct in the southern hemisphere. Here, researchers are already using a strategy that, according to the institute’s deputy director Stephen Nicholls, will become common practice by 2050 in a bid to advance the health of the community. They work in teams to combine a broad range of expertise, from medicine to commerce, to ensure new research can be commercialised effectively and quickly. “We need big solutions to big problems and we need to do that by bringing people together,” says Professor Nicholls. “And that’s certainly something we’re trying to evolve with our research at SAHMRI.”

Health will be one of the most critical topics when it comes to the future. The ABS projects the country’s population could more than double from 24 million to 48.3 million by 2061, with the country’s age structure expected to change dramatically. About one in four Australians is expected to be aged over 65, and one in 14 will be over 85, by 2061. Growth in this age group has massive implications for health, housing and retirement income planning, with many Australians expected to work to a much older age than they do today.

Despite getting older, the population is also expected to be healthier. “What we considered elderly 20 years ago isn’t even elderly today. And what’s elderly in 2050 will be considerably older,” says Nicholls.

And yet, the way healthcare is being administered will have to change dramatically. “It’s going to become much more mobile, less centralised and less dependent on big hospitals for chronic disease management and so we’ll have to work out ways how we deliver healthcare where people are.” The fact that SA already has one of the oldest populations in the country could give this jurisdiction an advantage. “The state is already starting to understand that it needs to focus resources and attention on how we live in SA moving forward with a large proportion of elderly individuals,” Nicholls says. He believes several aspects of health will improve significantly by 2050, with new jobs being created as a result:

  • IMPROVED imaging will enable us to visualise the human body in greater detail.
  • THE ability to collect “big data” will enable us to predict epidemics.
  • GENETIC testing will become more affordable.
  • THE way a person is diagnosed and treated will be increasingly personalised.

Professor Nicholls says disease prevention and finding effective treatments will be the focus of the future. “We need to find effective ways to treat our patients but we need to do it without breaking the bank,” he says.

Miselowski predicts much of the job creation will be in the health sector in 2050. He deduces that nanomedics will be able to manipulate, change and cure the human body from the inside and surgeons will increasingly use robots to operate. People will carry an internal device that allows authorities to constantly monitor their wellbeing, and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, will be better understood.

But it’s also in the aged care and nursing sector that humans, not machines, will play a lasting role. “We’re herd animals. We’re community oriented. We like to interact with other people, it’s hardwired into our DNA,” Miselowski says. “There are a lot of human interaction jobs that will continue to be part of our landscape but the tools they use and the way that they do it will not in any way, shape or form be how they’re doing it today.”


Budget 2017

$200 MILLION FUTURE PACKAGE

A future Jobs Fund package, which aims to pour $200 million into employment creation as soon as possible, is the cornerstone of the State Government’s pre-election “jobs” budget, announced in June. Here is where the money will go:

In the package the State Government has doubled down on existing programs, such as Investment Attraction South Australia, and will provide $50 million in grants and $70 million in low-interest loans to local companies.

In an effort to quickly kickstart the economy, the Government has chosen a September 29 closing date for applications for this money, with projects expected to start before the end of June next year.

Businesses will also be able to apply for $50,000 support packages to help build a business case to apply for the financial incentives, with applications to be assessed by an expert panel.
The $200 million package will focus on five key sectors: shipbuilding and defence; renewable energy and mining; tourism, food and wine; health and biomedical research; and IT and advanced manufacturing.