The ACS (Australian Computer Society) – the professional association for Australia’s ICT sector – has joined forced with research body Data61, ANZ Banking Group, the Federal Department of Employment and Boston Consulting Group to release a keynote report identifying the importance of digital literacy to the future job prospects of Australian workers.

The report, “Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce”, outlines a range of scenarios and trends which are likely to develop over the next 20 years as a result of Megatrends including rapid advances in computing power, Internet access, artificial intelligence, Big Data and Cloud Computing. These Megatrends, combined with changing demographics such as an ageing population and shifting labour participation rates are likely to fuel significant adjustments in how people work.

Federal Employment Minister, Senator Michealia Cash, launched the report at the Sydney Opera House in February, saying, “The report has provided us with a deeper insight into the changing landscape of our workforce, brought about by huge technological shifts. How Australia’s workforce fares in the long term will depend on our ability to help workers make transitions to new and better jobs. Our biggest challenge will be to ensure no-one is left behind.”

ACS President and IFIP Councillor, Anthony Wong, said this is a global shift, much like the Industrial Revolution, and one that Australia must make well or risk falling behind its international competitors.

“We already know the job market of the future will involve more portfolio workers who freelance for a number of employers, using technology and often co-working facilities to remain connected. Entrepreneurial skills will be essential to enable this growing segment to market their skills and services and build a successful small business,” he said.

According to the report, the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI) recently ranked Australia third globally for overall entrepreneurship attitude and potential, saying, “Australia excels in terms of opportunities for start-ups and its tech sector. In order to continue to foster a successful entrepreneurial environment, entrepreneurship needs to be supported as a valid and respected career choice, removing the associated stigma of failure and assisting in the creation of networking opportunities.”

The megatrends each relate to a specific influence on the workforce, and are based on research undertaken by a team from CSIRO and Data61. They specifically address the exponential growth of technology, shifting nature of the labour market in a sharing economy, the rise of entrepreneurism, the need for greater demographic inclusion, the shift towards higher education standards and the growth of the creative, knowledge and service economies in the future.

The Report’s author, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz of Data61, spoke of the importance of the scenarios as a guide for future planning.

“This isn’t a story about jobs disappearing. It’s a story about jobs changing. We are entering into an era of rapid technology fuelled disruption that will reshape the landscape for businesses and people’s careers.

“Job seekers of the future need to develop skills, capabilities and aptitudes which complement (not compete with) artificial intelligence, computerised systems and robotics. That’s the idea behind a ‘digitally enabled workforce’; it means a workforce where computers are increasing the productivity of workers giving them better and more rewarding careers along with increasing the productivity of the Australian economy,” he said.

ACS CEO, Andrew Johnson, spoke to the importance of digital skills as an enabler of future productivity growth.

“What is becoming abundantly clear is the need for better education in the technology space. This report shows us that digital skills will be a requirement not only in the technology space, but in almost every job in the next 20 years.

“If we are able to drive a greater focus on education, we will develop an economy that is driven by highly skilled, digitally literate workers. We can, and must, be at the cutting edge of innovation, especially in the creative and knowledge economies. This report provides us with a range of challenges that need to be addressed, and we look forward to meeting them,” he said.