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Future jobs

24 March 2017
Globalisation. Automation. Evolution. Are you ready for what’s coming?

Official figures suggest today’s graduates may change jobs more than 17 times. Welcome to the brave new world of employment where agility rules and careers are about constant change and reskilling.

Once it was the expected thing to study, find a job and stay with an organisation until retirement. Now people entering the workforce face a very different experience.

Professor Ron Johnston is the Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Innovation. His work looks at how people can prepare for change resulting from emerging technologies.

“A person’s career will become a process of continual reinvention – reinventing yourself, reinventing your role and reinventing your areas of interest,” he says.

For example, as developing technologies enable computerisation of routine tasks such as reading documents and assessing information, various professions will be affected. In areas such as law, computers will be able to make preliminary recommendations.

Theodora Chan

Theodora Chan is an alumni mentor. She is also co-founder of a company that uses technology to engage employees working from international locations.

“The advice I give to my first-year engineering students is that if you’ve done something exactly the same way three times, then you can be replaced by a robot,” Johnston says. “So when it comes around to the third time, don’t do it the same way; think about how you can innovate and try to do it differently and better.”

Globalisation has also been a major factor in the changing career landscape. People face greater competition from overseas as companies move work offshore and new technology makes the world a smaller place.

Theodora Chan (BA Media&Comm ’10 BA (Hons) ’12), is co-founder of Hey Sippy, a content marketing and production company that hires freelancers in various countries. Working with people overseas not only enables her company to give its clients fast service, it means both company and clients can work with the best writers, designers, photographers and videographers from around the world.

“If a client requests a blog post at 5.30pm for the following morning, I can have someone in the United Kingdom work on it during their daytime and have the content to the client by 9am Australian time,” Chan says.

These changes don’t always mean jobs will be lost. Other jobs are often created or the nature of existing jobs changes. Johnston gives the example of a car robotics centre in Adelaide that avoided closing down by becoming a medical device operation through repurposing existing equipment and using employees’ skills differently.

Professor Ron Johnston

Professor Ron Johnston sees a future where careers will be based on constant reskilling.

“There is a need to adapt and identify new opportunities in this time of change,” he says.

Johnston also sees the tradition of loyalty to employers as long gone, with people doing what’s necessary to progress their careers. There is already a shift underway in how people think of employment, with more new graduates setting up their own businesses rather than working for a large organisation. So it’s less about getting a job and more about making a job.

“An entrepreneurial spirit has emerged,” Chan says. “I think it’s symptomatic of the new economy, where people want to control their lives and have a level of flexibility with work.

“If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be running my own business, I would have laughed. But flexibility is important to me and something I didn’t have to sacrifice when setting up.”

So how can people prepare for the future of employment?

Soft skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, agility and resilience are still important, as are motivation and being open to learning. Both Johnston and Chan agree that these skills, combined with specific professional expertise, are key to adapting to the multiple roles they’re likely to have throughout their careers.

There is a need to adapt and identify new opportunities in this time of change.
Professor Ron Johnston


A broad skillset, in particular, will help people approach work differently in various environments. Chan has held a number of positions since completing her bachelor’s degree and found that employers want people who can complete a wide range of tasks.

“When I was the online editor at that’s life! magazine, I managed all the digital tasks associated with my role. I also had to edit copy, write, resize images and edit videos, and help with social media, advertising and marketing,” she says. “You need to be willing to learn and adapt.”

To embrace the jobs of the future, it’s important we change the way we think about our careers and become more open to changing paths and reskilling.

“We don’t know what the world is going to be like in five years’ time so we have to prepare ourselves for something that’s going to be different,” Johnston says.

“We no longer need people to be job ready – we want them to be life ready.”

Responding with a new curriculum

To prepare students for careers of the future, the University will introduce a reimagined undergraduate curriculum in 2018. It will focus on global perspectives, cross-disciplinary learning and real-world projects. Find out more about the Sydney Undergraduate Experience.

Written by Narelle Levett
Photography by Stefanie Zingsheim