Economic and digital disruption is affecting jobs and work, and thus affecting the quality of life through the income and effort equation, as described by Bernard Salt, noted demographer.

The old model of educational preparation for the adult world is under pressure. Twenty years ago, a degree from a university was enough to open a world of opportunity. Strong competition now exists in the job market: more people want the same jobs, whether it be here or overseas.

Companies are now hiring not based entirely on what people know, or qualifications they hold, or experience; instead, they are hiring based on what you can do and how you work with others.

Our thinking about a successful school education needs to evolve. The recent Gonski report is an attempt at this rethink.

Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat (2005) lists three convergences that have significant effect. These convergences are combinations of advances in digital technologies, changes in business processes and the huge growth in numbers of peoples from developing countries that aspire to join the global middle class.

It is nearly 30 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain that allowed the intellectual potential of eastern Europe and Russia into a global world. It is around 35 years since China decided to open trade and business opportunities. We are feeling these effects and our children may feel them even more so.

Hugh Durrant-Whyte, director at the Centre for Translational Data Science at the University of Sydney, has commented. The big difference now is that machine learning and artificial intelligence are solving jobs that we thought traditionally were very highly qualified jobs. It’s eating out the middle of the job market, rather than the bottom end.

The hollowing-out of middle Australia jobs
Change in occupations by skill level 2011-2016

*only counting jobs with an assigned skill level on ANZSCO 6 digit level in 2011 and 2016
Source: ABS Census 2011 and 2016 via The Weekend Australian May 5-6 2018

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has classified the Australian workforce into five skill levels covering 1300 occupations. The highest requires considerable technical and/or academic training and includes doctors and engineers. The lowest requires no formal training and includes cleaners and sales assistants.

In the five years to the 2016 census the number of Australians in the workforce (as measured by the census) increased by 620,000. About 46 per cent of the growth (290,000 jobs) during this period was in the highest category.

Knowledge workers and highly skilled workers comprise less than one-fifth of the workforce, yet this skill set saw almost half of all new jobs.
The top two skill categories (levels one and two) captured 59 per cent of job growth in this per¬iod. The two lowest categories (levels four and five) captured 39 per cent of new jobs.

This leaves middle-ranking occupations to soak up the remaining 1 per cent of job growth.

There is growth in jobs at both ends of the skills spectrum. This is evidence of the hollowing out of job options for middle Australia. The message is clear. You must build skills or sink into a life of poor remuneration.

As a result, every child should aim to complete some form of tertiary, further education or technical training.

Our children need to develop the capacity and adaptability to learn new skills. There needs to be a pathway to a good life in Australia for all people, no matter their background. It’s the ability to come into the workforce at any level and work your way up.

That requires a growth mindset, where improvement comes from focus and effort, where achievement (a personal best) and resilience coupled with the ability to identify and adapt to new circumstances and opportunities allows our children to develop their own future.