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Insight Seven: Workforce Polarisation in Tasmania: Implications for the future of work and training

Tasmania is touted the ideal place to live, work, study and invest.

While Tasmania’s economic performance is relatively strong, employment is growing and more people from interstate and beyond are relocating to the State, the changing nature of work and what this means for the future paints a complex picture, demographer Dr Lisa Denny said.

Dr Lisa Denny
Image: Dr Lisa Denny

In a new report released by the Institute for the Study of Social Change, Dr Denny looks at workforce polarisation – the growth in the share of high and low skill jobs and the hollowing out of mid-skill jobs – which is occurring in the State due to economic restructuring and the shift away from traditional industries.

Dr Denny said like many economies, Tasmania is undergoing a process of economic restructuring in response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Technological mega-trends – including the digital disruption, the internet of things, artificial (AI) intelligence, automation and robotics – are transforming the nature of work and careers.

These changes are happening alongside a range of other economic, demographic and social shifts.

Dr Denny said a growing concern linked to this revolution is the polarisation of Tasmania’s workforce – a disproportionate growth in the share of high and low skill jobs and the hollowing out of mid-skill jobs. This declining proportion of the workforce requiring intermediate skills is particularly concerning for young Tasmanians about to enter the workforce. Dr Denny said:

Economic restructuring in Tasmania is seeing some industries in decline while others, such as agriculture and manufacturing are investing in technology to improve productivity.

At the same time, service industries; care, education, tourism, and health as well as construction are the major sources of employment growth.

Dr Denny said an analysis of occupational skill distribution between 2006 and 2016 for Tasmania (pre and post the Global Financial Crisis) revealed evidence of heightened workforce polarisation over the decade.

“From 2006 to 2016, Tasmania’s already polarised workforce became more polarised, and despite the workforce expanding by around 11,000 new jobs, 684 were lost in the mid-skill level,” she said.

“Over the decade there was also a marked shift to less-than-full-time employment, particularly for Tasmanians in lower skill level jobs. High levels of under-qualified workers (consistent with an ageing workforce) is also evident, as is high levels of over-qualification.

“This highlights the need to better match education and training to workforce needs, while ensuring that Tasmanians develop the right skills to adapt to a rapidly changing labour market.”

In the absence of innovation and investment in globally competitive traded sectors, Dr Denny said increasing the supply of educated and skilled labour may not automatically result in increased employment and economic growth. She said:

One of the greatest risks of workforce polarisation for Tasmania is that young, educated job seekers will be unable to secure adequate work in the state and will relocate to employment opportunities elsewhere, further contributing to our demographic challenges.

This workforce polarisation in Tasmania, tied to deep structural issues, highlights the need to provide and prioritise continuing education and skill development for a range of growing industry sectors. Those industries where Tasmania enjoys a competitive advantage are most likely to generate the high skill jobs of the future.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived. As a community we need to understand and respond to the changing nature of work if Tasmania is to fully realise its potential.”

Read the full report (PDF 2.1 MB)  


Institute for Social Change
University of Tasmania
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