The jobs of tomorrow: what to tell your children

'Getting ahead' now means considering jobs that weren't even imagined 20 years ago.

'Getting ahead' now means considering jobs that weren't even imagined 20 years ago. Photo: Getty

One of the difficult bits of advice many parents will have to give their kids in the next few years is “don’t do the job I did”.

The economy is going through a major transformation, and the latest figures from the Department of Jobs and Small Business show which bits are withering, and which are blooming.

Traditional primary industry jobs in mining and agriculture, and secondary industries such as basic manufacturing and food processing, are either being replaced by higher-skilled roles in the same sectors, or by ‘service’ jobs, many of which didn’t exist two decades ago.

It’s a confusing landscape for a parent hoping their kids won’t end up in Australia’s increasingly punitive and inadequate welfare system.

Every parent wants their child to ‘get ahead’, but doing so increasingly means choosing careers they’ve never thought of before.

Reading the chart below, for instance, how many teenagers will say they long to join the ‘public adminstration and safety’ or ‘health care and social assistance’ sectors?

But both are set to boom in Australia primarily because of a growing and ageing population.

While the categories on the chart are broad grab bags of sectors, even the sub-sectors within them can’t easily be understood without considering the long-term trends affecting our economy:

• The once-in-a-century boom in mining construction has created a large industry in revenue terms, but one in which jobs numbers are in decline.

• Australians are living much longer than envisaged a couple of decades ago, and therefore will spend more on travel and entertainment, but also on medical and aged care services.

• Low-skill, labour-intensive jobs that can be done overseas continue to move offshore.

• Australia has a rapidly growing population, and is in catch-up mode in building the housing and infrastructure projects to cater for a larger population.

• Australia has a highly-educated population relative to many of our near neighbours and hence has a competitive advantage in high-skill area such as advanced manufacturing, professional services and education exports.

• There are large middle classes emerging across Asia, meaning they have more money to spend on things such as tourism, luxury goods and high-value-added food and drink.

• Public spending in Australia is low by international standards, but is increasing partly to cope with the ageing population, and with improvements to the social safety net such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Skills, not industries

One way to plan for the new jobs market is to think in terms of skill sets rather than ‘industries’.

In the past five years we have seen big job losses in mining and manufacturing, with those sectors moving towards high-tech plant and equipment that requires fewer, more highly-skilled operators and technicians – a trend even evident in the ‘robot bricklayers’ starting to appear in the building trade.

So the job is not ‘mine worker’ or ‘factory hand’, but ‘technician’, ‘programmer’ or ‘electronic engineer’.

Journalists are more aware of that principle than most – job losses in newsrooms have forced thousands to redefine themselves as ‘communication professionals’ working in growing sectors such as tourism, health or education.

For each of the sectors charted above, the Department of Jobs and Small Business’s report offers a round-up of the top jobs being created – not a bad place to start, keeping in mind the long-term trends above.

The competition

Job markets have always been competitive, but today’s high school students have to deal with a few new twists.

A Bachelor’s degree is increasingly regarded the way 12 years of high school once were, Masters degrees are becoming a common way to stand out in the jobs market, and plenty of degree-qualified graduates can’t find jobs at all. Confusing, eh?

Retail, food and accommodation jobs are relying on staff who manage sophisticated IT systems and apps rather than smiling and saying ‘have a nice day’, and a growing number of jobs blur the boundaries of marketing by getting staff to generate a buzz on social media.

The other challenge is that some economists now expect a large portion of the population to be surplus to requirements altogether – hence the growing calls for a ‘universal basic income‘ to replace stigmatising welfare payments.

So kids seeking career advice today face some complex questions: Is the domestic market for that job growing? Is the export market for that role growing? What is a good portable skill set that could be used across different sectors?

Or to turn that question around, kids should at least be asking “Is that job vanishing?”

If it is, it’s back to the drawing board – or it would be if drawing boards hadn’t vanished long ago.

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