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Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce

Executive Summary

Tomorrow’s digitally enabled workforce examines plausible futures for employment markets in Australia over the coming twenty years. The narrative of the future is based on a structured process of strategic foresight which identifies megatrends and scenarios.

While digital technology disruption is an important driver, the report covers a comprehensive range of technological, economic, social, environmental and geopolitical trends. The aim is to inform strategic choices of governments, companies, communities and individuals in planning for economic growth, productive industries, rewarding careers, cohesive communities and improved quality of life.

The implications of this report are that workforce transitions – how individuals move from one job to another and how industries move from one labour market structure to another – are crucial. Although change is inevitable, future destinations are not. Based on this narrative of the future, individuals, communities, companies and governments can identify and implement transition pathways that achieve better outcomes.

Why is now any different?

While Australia’s workforce is continually changing, the current period in history is characterised by a combination of forces likely to be associated with greater, faster and different transitions than previously experienced. There are several factors creating unique conditions, a ‘perfect storm’, at this point in history:

  1. The full impact of exponential and/or steep growth in computing power, device connectivity, data volumes and artificial intelligence is yet to be felt within Australia’s labour market. We will reach the steeper sections of the exponential growth curves some time beyond 2020. Many existing jobs are likely to be automated and many new jobs to be created.
  2. The recent ascendancy of the peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace (Upwork, Freelancer, Kaggle, Task Rabbit etc.) and the rise of platform economics in a globalised labour market characterised by entrepreneurial activity is likely to change traditional employment models. Many P2P models and employment platforms are in the early phases of development and showing signs of rapid growth.
  3. The ageing population, cultural diversification, retirement pressures and health and wellbeing drivers are set to change the demographic structure of Australia’s workforce. In the next decade Australia’s workforce will be older and more culturally diversified.
  4. Australia is entering the post-mining boom era of its economic development and is positioned for diversification into services, knowledge and innovation exports. This is being fuelled by a changing world economy, as Australia’s trading partners in Asia transition from the industrialisation-phase of development into advanced-service sector economies.

As a consequence the ‘future of work’ is receiving widespread and unprecedented attention from governments, research organisations and industry associations across Australia and the globe. However, the picture of future jobs and employment markets is far from clear. There are many possibilities about the changes which could transpire and the policy levers and actions available to achieve improved outcomes.

Strategic foresight methods

The process of strategic foresight developed by CSIRO uses concepts of megatrends and scenarios to describe plausible futures. The term ‘megatrends’ was introduced by John Naisbitt in his 1982 book of the same title and is now commonplace within the field of strategic foresight.
strategic foresightA megatrend is a deep-set trajectory of change that occurs at the intersection of numerous trends with tighter and more specific temporal, spatial and typological definition. In our work a megatrend happens over a 5-20 year time period. Megatrends develop gradually but eventually reshape the business environment. Scenarios are evidence based stories about the future, based on how the megatrends unfold. Because the future is uncertain, multiple scenarios exist.

Both megatrends and scenarios provide a model of the future designed to inform decisions. As with any model megatrends and scenarios are, by necessity, a simplification and abstraction of a much more complex reality.

Copy of Report

Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce.pdf


Hajkowicz, S. A., Reeson, A., Rudd, L., Bratanova, A., Hodgers, L., Mason, C., & Boughen, N. (2016) Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce: Megatrends and scenarios for jobs and employment in Australia over the coming twenty years. CSIRO, Brisbane.