The future is written…

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By Consultant Trent Swindells

If you could have your education over again, what would you do differently?

Maybe you wish you’d invested your time in computer science and developed the Google search algorithm, or the iPhone? Or perhaps you wanted to follow your passion and become the world’s greatest saxophonist?

Personally I love writing and communicating, but ever since I graduated with something called a ‘Bachelor of Communications majoring in Professional Writing’, I’ve honestly worried that I might end up pestering people in pubs to buy my poetry.

What got me thinking about education was a report from the Foundation for Young Australians, The New Work Order , which states that young Australians are dramatically underprepared for the future workforce. Supposedly, nearly 60 per cent of Australian students are training for jobs that are likely to disappear within the next 10-15 years, due to the disruptive effects of technology, globalisation and automation.

It’s a fascinating and even alarming report, and while education reform is sorely needed, particularly in Tasmania, I have doubts about Australia producing a generation of underqualified individuals.

Predications of technology taking over our lives have been around since the Industrial Revolution. Even one of the fathers of modern economics, John Maynard Keynes, got it wrong when he predicted a 15-hour working week for his generation’s grandchildren (ie: us). History has shown that as we free ourselves from mundane tasks, like chimney sweeping, we free up our time to innovate and create more economic opportunities, like Uber. In fact, we’re still doing this. According to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the nation created over six times the number of jobs it lost over the five years to June 2014.

It would be nice if the Atomic Age predictions of the 21st Century had come to pass – jetpacks to work, meals in pills and colonies on the moon – but instead the future has thrown up constant surprises, creating businesses and jobs that never existed, from the video store clerk to the solar panel technician.

ASIMO - portrait

A future colleague

What’s more, it’s now conceivable that a person could easily be both in one lifetime.

The Foundation for Young Australians report states that future workers should expect an average of 17 different jobs over a person’s lifetime, in five different careers. Based solely on my own experience, I think these kinds of numbers are already a reality for many people.

Armed only with my paltry degree, I’ve spent the past 20 years variously as a pre-dawn media monitor for Reuters (before there was email), a writer for various arcane publications (working with editors who insisted on cutting out little bits of paper to layout each page), a radio announcer (playing music on a thing called a ‘CD player’), an education marketing officer through China, South East Asia and Europe, a coordinator of aged care and community services, and most recently a government department communications officer.

Looking back, I’m not sure that my education adequately prepared me for these roles, but it did prepare me for life-long learning, which is obviously the key. I’m also lucky enough to be doing something I love: writing and communicating.

I actually think that this futuristic working environment wonderland is already here. Consider this: we can outsource anything via the internet, or at least get it delivered, and we engage with our customers moment-by-moment via social media. True, we’re not surrounded by robots just yet, but even if we were, there would still be the need for good communications, good writing, and (of course) good PR… even if it was to plead for mercy from our robot overlords.

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