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Community services are the future of work

Automation, artificial intelligence and digital disruption are changing the nature of work.

Robots are increasingly used in manufacturing, reducing factory jobs. Self-driving vehicles threaten the jobs of taxi, bus, train, tram and truck drivers. Kodak moments aren’t what they used to be, and that company no longer employs tens of thousands of people across the globe.

Many jobs of the 1970s no longer exist, and plenty of today’s jobs weren’t around forty years ago. We don’t know what jobs people will do forty years from now. We can make some predictions about the next few years by looking at the past and identifying trends.

Part-time jobs have nearly doubled as a proportion of total employment, growing from 17 per cent in 1984 to around 32 per cent today. Part-time work will likely continue growing in the near future.

About 40 per cent of women worked in 1980: today it is around 60 per cent. Over the same period, men’s workforce participation fell from 80 per cent to 70 per cent. There are no signs of these trends reversing.

Australia’s manufacturing jobs have fallen, both in the absolute number of jobs, and as a proportion of the workforce. This is due to automation, the virtual end of Australian car manufacturing, and declines in textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing over the past few decades. Projections suggest little change in manufacturing employment over the next five years.

At the same time, service industry jobs have grown dramatically. The health care and social assistance industry is the largest employer and the fastest growing industry in Australia. Health care and social assistance employment is projected to grow by around 250,000 jobs over the next five years across Australia and around 60,000 in Victoria alone.

Community services will account for much of this job growth. These jobs require a human touch, and cannot be automated. More workers are needed for the National Disability Insurance Scheme to offer more services to people with disability, and to re-shape our response for victim survivors of family violence. Expanding aged care services also need more workers, let alone anticipating reforms arising from the Aged Care Royal Commission.

Health care and social assistance has the greatest employment growth potential in the immediate future. Secure, well-paid community services jobs growth won’t happen by magic. Governments must invest in attracting workers through improved wages, education, training, qualifications and career pathways; otherwise we won’t be able to fill the jobs.

We must stop talking about this industry as if it were a welfare cost only. It is a viable industry with secure professional jobs, rewarding careers and an eye to the future of work.