CPD: The changing nature of work in Australia, implications for advisers and the broader protection ecosystem


The future of work has been characterised by concerns that technological change threatens to wipe out jobs across a range of professions.


As professional service providers, it is vital (and legally required!) for financial advisers to understand each of their clients at a highly detailed micro level. This detailed understanding – of their current situation and future goals – is an enabler of quality, personalised financial advice.

As business owners, seeking to maximise the sustainability of their practice, financial advisers are also expected to understand the big picture about the markets they serve; the current state and the medium to long-term trends which will reshape those markets in the future.

One of the most important trends for advisers to understand is the changing nature of work. As the characteristics of the workforce and nature the work itself evolves over time, so too advisers, product manufacturers and regulators need to evolve to ensure advice and product solutions, and the framework within which they are given, remain fit for purpose.

Work is evolving

The nature of work continues to change. This is a global phenomenon, spurred by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), changing work patterns and structures, social change, an ageing population, the rise and fall of entire industries, and the growth of the sharing economy.

As income streams become less linear and more interrupted, the risks we face in securing our financial futures are also changing

If the health and protection ecosystem that allows people to mitigate these risks is to remain effective and relevant, it must similarly evolve.

For those individuals and organisations that comprise that ecosystem – including advisers, life and health insurers, and government funded mechanisms such as

workers compensation, Centrelink and the NDIS – this need to evolve in step with the changing nature of work represents an important challenge.

This article will explore the changing nature of work, examining the industry trends as well as the attitudes and anxieties of individuals, both in Australia and overseas. It will draw extensively from a current research collaboration between Zurich and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Where we work

At the end of 2019, the Australian workforce comprised just under 13 million people[1].

Our biggest employing industry – accounting for 12.6% of the workforce as at the last Census[2] – is the Healthcare and Social Assistance sector. Other major employing sectors included Retail (9.9%), Education and Training (8.7%), Construction (8.5%), and Professional Services (7.3%).

The decline of the local manufacturing sector has been well documented for the last few decades, and this contraction continues today. Once Australia’s largest employing sector, accounting for 15% of all jobs in 1988, manufacturing now employs just over 6% of the Australian workforce, a figure that will shrink further.

Geographically, our biggest states are unsurprisingly our largest employers; the table below shows the distribution of jobs by state and industry, based on 2018 data[3].



How we work

The ways we are working continue to change too. Flexibility is the word.

A recent Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre study[4] estimated that in 2018 around 31% of all employees were working part time, roughly twice the proportion working part time in 1978.

Flexibility in location is also on the increase, driven largely by mobile technology, and around 1 in 5 now work from home on a regular basis[5]. This proportion is much higher amongst managers (41.2%) and professionals (38.2%).

This flexibility in where we work is matched by flexible working hours, and some experts[6] have estimated that less than 10% of us now work the stereotypical 9 to 5 workday.

We are changing jobs a lot more often than we once did, meaning our careers (and income streams) are becoming far more interrupted. In 1975, workers over the age of 45 averaged more than 10 years per job[7]; that figure is now 6 years and 8 months. Similarly, in 1975 just 8% of those aged 55+ stayed in their job less than a year, whereas today that figure is 15%.

One aspect of the workforce where the trend is less evident is casualisation.

Notwithstanding media commentary about the increasing casualisation in Australia, some experts believe the number of casuals has grown largely in line with the rest of the workforce. For example, AI Group Economic Research[8] found casuals accounted for 20.6% of the total workforce (24.7% of employees) in February 2018 compared with 20.1% in 1998 (25% of employees).

What are the jobs of the future?

In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.

One well publicised survey from the USA suggested that 65% of primary school students will be doing jobs that don’t yet exist although that has subsequently been discredited[9]. Fortunately, there is plenty of hard data to suggest what the growth industries and jobs of the future will be.

In Australia, the industries projected[10] to grow the fastest between 2018 and 2023 are Healthcare and Social Assistance (14.9%) and Education and training (11.2%).

Double digit growth is also expected in the Construction and Professional Services categories.

Much of the growth in the services sector has been driven by Health Care and Social Assistance. With Australia’s growing and ageing population requiring more care, and the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, this is expected to continue.

In terms of job types within these sectors. Professionals (10.9%) and Community and Personal Services workers (17.5%) are expected to experience the highest growth in demand[11].

The Australian Jobs 2019 paper[12], published by the Federal Government, allows us to dig even deeper into the specific types of jobs expected to experience the biggest growth over a 5 year timespan; these are summarised below:



The ‘Gig economy’ and the myth of the 100k Uber Driver

Over the last few years, countless column inches have been devoted to the rise of the ‘gig economy’, characterised by increasing numbers of workers becoming ‘freelancers’ or independent contractors, hired on a task-based basis through digital platforms. Sometimes referred to as the ‘gig economy’, well known examples of such platforms include Uber, Freelancer.com and Airtasker, although a recent survey identified that Australia’s growing gig worker cohort is actually using more than100 such platforms to generate work. According to the survey, conducted for the Victorian State Government[13], around 7% of the Australian workforce are finding work through these platforms.

Of course this trend has not solely been driven by the ubiquity of technology and the emergence of disrupters across various sectors; it has also come at a time where the very nature of employment contracts has been evolving, and companies pivot from a permanent to a contracted workforce in an attempt to boost resource agility and financial performance.

Whether or not this type of work will continue to grow as rapidly as it has done up until now, remains to be seen. Certainly, we would expect some sort of normalisation effect to occur, as the supply of labour in some categories starts to exceed demand.

We are already seeing this occur with rideshare drivers, with a recent report[14] detailing how the average hourly rate for Uber drivers had dropped from around $45 to just $16, as more and more drivers joined the platform.

Are the robots really coming?

Much recent dialogue about ‘the future of work’ has been characterised by concerns that technological change threatens to wipe out jobs across a range of professions.

A major driver of these concerns has been highly publicised research[15] suggesting that almost half of all jobs in the USA were at high risk of automation in the relatively near future. Australian research[16] using a similar methodology put the figure at 40%, an equally alarming headline number, and one which undoubtedly set the tone for discussions about the future of work in the media and amongst academia and policymakers.

Fortunately, not everyone agrees with these findings.

A subsequent study by Australian academics Professor Jeoff Borland and Michael Coelli[17] uncovered major flaws in the methodologies used in these surveys, which, when corrected for, estimated the percentage of jobs at risk was closer to 9%.

In time we may well find the true impact lies somewhere between these two points. Afterall, automation isn’t just about robots. The increasing synthesis of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and new forms of human – machine interaction (such as virtual reality and sensor technology), has allowed the automation of many routine physical processes, eliminating the need for manual labour. Further, it has allowed the digitalisation of cognitive tasks within even skilled professions such as medicine and finance. In Australia, one only has to reflect on the extent to which our tax returns are increasingly pre-completed and the subsequent implications for many accountants and tax agents.

What do we actually feel about the future (and how will we adapt)?

The pioneering Oxford/Zurich study referenced earlier in this article surveyed 16,500 workers across 15 countries. It examined their current circumstances and their attitudes towards technology and its impact on their lives and their work. It examined their anxieties about the future, how they intended to adapt to that future, and how they protected themselves against an evolving set of risks.

Technology is clearly, and understandably, seen as a double edge sword by many.

More than half of all Australian respondents[18] felt that technology had a positive impact on their lives overall. But a different sentiment was evident when respondents[19] were asked about their fears of job loss through automation, as can be seen in the table below.

Fear of losing job to automation over next 5 years

Although on a global basis, Australian anxiety levels are below average, relative to other highly developed economies, Australians were more fearful of their jobs being lost to automation, with just under 26% fearing their job would be automated away in the next 5 years. This is twice the level found in Germany (13.1%), and also significantly higher than the UK (17.4%), and Switzerland (21.4%).

Regardless of how many jobs are lost through automation, there is little doubt that the jobs of the future will be different. As workers we need to be ready to adapt to this future, and there are many ways we can do this, including changing our employment status, our skill sets and our location. Attitudes towards these options were also examined in the Oxford/Zurich study[20].

Changing jobs: About a quarter of Australians (27 percent) indicate that they plan to leave their job voluntarily in the next 12 months. Generation X is least likely (21 percent) and, not surprisingly, of the youngest workers in our sample, who are in their 20s, one third (34 percent) say they would do so.

Go freelance: 15 percent of Australian workers say they would leave their current job voluntarily to go freelance. This is higher than many other developed economies, including Germany (6%), UK (9.6%), USA (14.1%) and Ireland (9.7%). Australian Women are a bit less likely to want to go freelance: 13 percent say they plan to do so in the next 12 months compared with 18 percent of men.

Reskilling: 57 percent of Australians say they would be willing to sacrifice one evening of leisure time per week for six months to reskill or gain skills to enhance their labour market resilience.

Moving overseas: Australians have generally exhibited a high degree of interstate mobility, a trait made more necessary by our unique geography. When it comes to work, it seems we are also amongst the most likely to consider travelling overseas in pursuit of jobs. 22.1% indicated a willingness to move overseas for a job. This compares with Germany (14.5%), UK (16.6%), USA (20.5%) and Ireland (17.7%).

Implications for protection

If there is a word to sum up what trait will prove most valuable in adapting to the future of work, it might be ‘agility’. The ability to move quickly – in terms of location, skill set, and even job structure – will give workers the best chance of evolving with work itself.

As income streams become less linear, more diverse and more interrupted, the importance of protecting that income becomes even more important.

On the supply side, insurers and governments need to ensure that the accessibility of protection is aligned to the evolving nature of work. In other words, protection needs to become more agile too.

From a life insurance perspective, the way we design, underwrite and assess claims for income protection will need to evolve away from the current approach which is aligned to more traditional work types and more consistent income patterns. It will also need to cater for people who are working longer, and increasingly living with (rather than dying from) major illnesses.

The recent APRA mandate to cease sales of agreed value income protection, even though predicated on a different issue, is an example of the quantum of evolution that can and will occur.

Having the right protection in place will also give people more confidence to be more flexible, and indeed the Oxford/Zurich study found a significant correlation between the ownership of life insurance and willingness to become freelance, re skill and/or move overseas for a job[21].

There are also implications for the superannuation system.

A fit-for-purpose retirement savings system is one which optimises one’s savings, allowing for the many risks and interruptions an individual will face over their working life. The role of life insurance in protecting the value of those savings against the impact of disability – or worse – remains obvious, and at a time when some commentators are questioning the role of life insurance within superannuation, it is worth re-emphasising its role in protecting – not eroding – the value of one’s retirement savings.

Advice implications

The implications for advice are as significant as they are numerous.

Changing work patterns and increasingly interrupted income streams create many considerations for advisers and their clients:

  • Protection
    • Appropriateness of existing insurance arrangements
    • Inside or outside super
    • Definition of disablement
    • Funding
  • Credit
    • Ability to secure
    • Leveraged investments
    • Repayment patterns
  • Superannuation
    • Portability
    • Contribution patterns
    • Insurance
  • Working overseas (including online work performed in Australia)
    • Residency
    • Tax
    • Foreign earned income
    • Insurance
  • Reskilling
    • Educational funding
  • Tax considerations
    • Optimised for freelancers and individual contractors


The nature of work will change significantly in the future. The disruption of business models will drive the creation of new jobs and the destruction of others. The structure of work will also continue to evolve, in terms of working patterns, locations and the nature of relationships between workers and employers.

As career paths become less linear and more interrupted, so too will income streams and this will have important ramifications for advisers, in terms of the advice they give, and where they might find new clientele. As mobility and reskilling become more important throughout one’s working life, there is an opportunity for the role of financial advisers to broaden to that of a holistic life coach, helping their clients make life decisions, not just financial ones.

There are important implications for the health and protection ecosystem, as the advice and solutions needed by workers evolves in line with the changing nature of the risks they face in securing a financial future.

Understanding the changing nature of work is thus vital for advisers who wish to ensure their advice remains contemporary and their business remains future ready.


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1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 6202.0, Labour Force, Australia, December 2019.
2. Australian Community Profile, profile.id.com.au
3. ‘Australian Jobs 2019’, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Australian Government.
4. ‘Future of work in Australia, preparing for tomorrow’s world’, Focus on States Series, April 2018, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.
5.‘Future of work in Australia, preparing for tomorrow’s world’, Focus on States Series, April 2018, Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.
6.‘Working nine to five. Is this form of employment extinct?’, Larissa Ham, The New Daily, January 2014.
7. ‘Casual work and part-time work in Australia in 2018’, AI Group Economics Research, June 2018.
8. ‘The Myth of Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet’, ‘Derek Newton, Forbes.Com, December 2018
9. ‘Australian Jobs 2019’, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Australian Government.
10. ‘Australian Jobs 2019’, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Australian Government.
11. ‘Australian Jobs 2019’, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Australian Government.
12. ‘Australian Jobs 2019’, Department of Jobs and Small Business, Australian Government.
13. ‘Australians flock to gig economy for work’, SBS News, sbs.com.au, June 2019.
14. ‘Rideshare drivers feeling the squeeze’, Anna Patty, Sydney Morning Herald, October 2018.
15. ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization? Technological Forecasting and Social Change’, Frey, C.B. and Osborne, M.A, 2017.
16. ‘The impact of computerisation and automation on future employment’, Hugh Durrant-Whyte et al., ceda.com.au
17. ‘Are robots taking our jobs?’, Jeff Borland and Michael Coelli, University of Melbourne Economics Department, August 2017.
18. ‘Perceptions on Protection’, Zurich Insurance Company and Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, June 2019.
19. ‘People protection, insights on empowering an agile workforce’, Zurich Insurance Company and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, October 2019.
20. ‘People protection, insights on empowering an agile workforce’, Zurich Insurance Company and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, October 2019.
21. ‘People protection, insights on empowering an agile workforce’, Zurich Insurance Company and the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, October 2019.

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