6 minute read 10 Jun 2019
Word now in colourful neon light

Stop talking about the future of work

By Catherine Friday

EY Oceania Managing Partner, Government and Health Sciences; EY Global Education Leader

Improving how governments work and deliver services. Mustang owner. Keen horse rider. Average but enthusiastic skier.

6 minute read 10 Jun 2019
Related topics Consulting Tax Technology

Show resources

  • Future of Work 2019. Stop talking about the future of work (pdf)

Workplace disruption is here, so why aren’t we acting on it?

When an organisation wants to know who it should hire in three years’ time, where do they turn? When they want to invest in retraining, how do they know what skills to invest in? When an employee wants to know if their role will become redundant through technological disruption, where does their research start? When government needs data on national upheavals in the mining, education or financial sectors, where is it housed?

There are two answers: everywhere and nowhere.

The result is that while we are drowning in a sea of noise about the ‘future of work’, real solutions to actual workplace questions are thin on the ground. In a series of 34 executive conversations and over 2000 survey interviews with employers and workers across Australia and New Zealand’s largest organisations, EY found that change at the organisational level is accelerating through investment in AI, blockchain and machine learning.

In stark contrast, complacency or confusion pervades both upper levels of business and government as well as the broader workforce. The impact is real. Because we have no centralised repository for data on a changing workforce, we have no economy-wide view of the roles that will thrive, those that will change and those that will become redundant.

It means that learning and development (L&D) programs still focus on the roles of today and yesterday – not tomorrow. In the face of task and role redundancy, our research has found that the cost of misplaced L&D spend by organisations in Australia is around A$4 billion from a total estimated L&D of $12 billion. In New Zealand, the equivalent numbers are NZ$0.25 billion misdirected from a total estimated investment of NZ$1.5 billion.

At the centre of our findings is the realisation that the current approach to skilling people is not meeting rapidly changing current needs and is certainly not future fit. It’s clear we need to move the needle from talking to doing. In an increasingly uncertain economic climate, with job security and unemployment looking ever shakier, the challenges will only grow.

I think it is really important that the discussion about ‘work of the future’, which technically could be renamed ‘work of the now’, isn’t all doom and gloom.
Emma Hogan
NSW Public Service Commissioner

Uncomfortable truths

EY research with employers across Australia and New Zealand found that change will be profound in the near future. These leaders are forecasting a significant reshaping of their workforce over the next three years: 11% of jobs in their organisation will be redundant over the next three years; 31% say technology will change the nature of roles, triggering task redundancy; and new jobs will make up 13% of the roles available.

These are real job outcomes, but despite the mounting evidence that technology will change our work, employees are overwhelmingly complacent about preparing for this future.

Employers report investment in future readiness, but their workers are not

experiencing or engaging with it. Is their action misdirected? Or do we need to

face this disconnect and resolve it?

Key findings

 1. The tipping point of technology-augmented roles is near
Fifty-four percent of employers are forecasting investment in AI over the next three years compared to 24% over the past three years. This is an important leading indicator of accelerating momentum towards job disruption, including role and task redundancy.

2. Complacency is rife and needs to be unlocked
Sixty percent of workers have given little to no consideration to the impact of digital technology on their job. Most people believe the digital impact on their jobs over the next three years will be much the same as their experience over the last three.

3. Workforce supply and demand is heading into unchartered territory
On balance, more employers (46%) expect a decline in their domestic workforce in the next three years compared to a growth in the domestic workforce (39%). The scale of this supply and demand fluctuation will not be confined to one industry or sector, and workforce mobility across sectors is already underway.

4. Responses are immature and inertia abounds
Only 56% of employers report that they understand the capacity and capabilities their workforce will need to deliver work in the future. Sixty-three percent are still in the early stages of developing their workforce planning capability to effectively forecast future skills requirements.

5. Over-reliance on the market by leaders
Sixty-one percent of employers believe the market will deliver them the capabilities they require – despite the fact that numerous digital skills are already in chronic under-supply against accelerating demand.

6. Workers and leaders don’t agree on the current state
Ninety-one percent of employers believe they are providing support for workers to adapt to the coming change – but 43% of workers don’t agree.

7. Leaders are paralysed by complexity and ambiguity
Leaders say uncertainty around when and how digital technology will hit their organisation is preventing them from proactively responding. They are waiting for something to happen.

8. L&D strategies are not preparing us for needed skills
Our research suggests that around A$4 billion is lost in misdirected L&D in Australia and NZ$0.25 billion lost in New Zealand, crucial funds that should be used for future upskilling.

Uncertain times require strong measures

To meet those challenges, EY is calling for:

  • The Australian and New Zealand departments of education, jobs, business and productivity to develop reporting, insights and guidance on how jobs will change and what skills are needed to be future-ready. This will form a one-stop shop for all workers, employers and educators who are seeking the crucial, real-time information that is currently lacking.
  • Organisations to work quickly to build the transition foundations they need to adapt to changing skills and roles. This requires focus on a learning culture, career pathways, skills planning, communication about the future and employee engagement with technology.
  • The education ecosystem (institutions, organisations, providers) needs to work together to offer agile, adaptable offerings so that continuous, on-demand and self-directed learning becomes the new normal. In this report we focus on the way technology is reshaping work.


We know emerging technologies will create job and task redundancies for employees in Australia and New Zealand. But the problems and opportunities don’t lie somewhere off in the distance. They are here. We need to proactively manage the transition to new ways of working so that we emerge economically stronger, as individuals, as organisations and as nations.

About this article

By Catherine Friday

EY Oceania Managing Partner, Government and Health Sciences; EY Global Education Leader

Improving how governments work and deliver services. Mustang owner. Keen horse rider. Average but enthusiastic skier.

Related topics Consulting Tax Technology