Saturday, April 30, 2016
Many older people worry that, with the decline of manufacturing in Australia, and the end of the mining boom as well, they just can't see where the jobs will come from.
Young people, on the other hand, believe jobs are getting ever harder to find and, when you do find one, it's likely to be pretty scrappy: casual, part-time, short-term.
What's true is that young people have borne the brunt of the weak economic and hence employment growth since the financial crisis in 2008.
It's taking them longer to find entry-level full-time jobs than it used to and, in the meantime, they've had to get by with casual jobs. More employers have been willing to exploit them by asking them to do unpaid internships.
What's not true is that there's been continuing growth in insecure forms of employment. The proportions of such jobs haven't been increasing.
At a time of "transition" and uncertainty, it's always easy to err on the gloomy side. When you do, be sure the media will broadcast your bad vibes to the world.
But it's not hard to see plausible reasons why things could get better for workers, not worse. And when the ANZ Bank's chief economist unit and the Australian Institute for Business and Economics, at the University of Queensland, peered into the future and ran their best guesses through a model of the economy, that's just what they found.
Everyone loves to dwell on the decline in manufacturing, and the pathetic number of lasting jobs in mining, but few people get excited by the truth that almost all the additional jobs we've created in the past 40 years have been in the services sector.
Nor that most of these jobs have been cleaner, safer, more highly skilled and more rewarding – intellectually as well as monetarily – than most of the jobs no longer being created in manufacturing, farming and mining.
The study makes the highly plausible assumption that this longstanding trend will continue. "Declining material intensity has been observed in all [developed] countries, in part because wealthier consumers buy 'experiences' once their primary material needs are met," it says.
The ageing of the population is almost invariably portrayed as a bad thing, but the study points to a widely ignored way in which it's good news for the younger generation.
With a higher proportion of the population retired (and thus adding to the demand for labour but not to its supply) but low fertility meaning a lower rate of young people entering the workforce from education, demand for the services of young workers will increase.
Here's a tip: employers are chancers. If they think they can get away with screwing workers (because there are more than enough available) they will. That's what's been happening lately.
But if they don't think they can get away with it (because workers have plenty of other bosses who'd like their services), they don't. And if it gets to the point where bosses have to start sucking up to workers to attract them and hold them, they will.
The study puts it more politely. By their nature, service industries rely less on machines and more on people, particularly highly-skilled workers. So if the services sector's share of the economy continues to grow "this could prove challenging for Australian businesses given our ageing population and changing workforce composition".
A third factor the gloom-mongers neglect is that our continuing move to the "knowledge economy" requires a better-educated, more highly-qualified workforce.
Today, more than half the population has completed the last year of schooling and gained at least a post-school certificate. That's more than twice what it was in 1981.
Since the oldest Australians have the lowest levels of educational attainment, the proportion of people with post-school qualifications could exceed 70 per cent by 2030.
Even so, the study predicts that "the fight to retain skilled workers will intensify", implying that, though the supply of qualified workers will grow, the demand for their services will grow faster.
In such circumstances, employers will be trying to bind their skilled workers to them, not cast them adrift with insecure employment contracts.
If we foresee further growth in the share of the economy accounted for by labour-intensive service industries, employing better qualified and higher-paid workers – over whose bodies employers are fighting – labour's share of national income should rise.
If so, "some of the consequences of a falling labour share, such as growing income inequality, may begin to unwind as well", the study says.
A final factor to remember is that our exports of services are likely to keep growing as Asia's middle class gets bigger and more prosperous.
At present, the goods sector of the economy (agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction) accounts for 28 per cent of total employment, while the services sector accounts for 72 per cent. The study predicts that, over the next 15 years, the services share will increase by 5 percentage points.
It finds that the industries with the most intensive demand for labour are also those with the strongest growth prospects.
The strongest growing service industries are likely to be healthcare (fed by demand for new medical technologies as well as ageing), education (growing demand for qualifications) and professional services.
These industries are projected to grow by at least 5 per cent a year, on average, over the next 15 years. Demand for labour across the economy is projected to grow by an average of a solid 1.6 per cent a year.
No one – certainly, no economist – knows what the future holds. But don't be led into assuming the only things that could happen are bad.