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Economics for an ever-changing workforce

Economics for an ever-changing workforce

As Head of Economic Analysis department at The Reserve Bank of Australia, Alexandra Heath is an impressive woman in Economics. 

In her recent speech given at the Victorian Career Advisors Conference in Melbourne, Alexandra discussed the changing landscape of work and the skills that will be needed for the future.

Sharing her breadth of experience in the field, Alexandra offered advice to the attendees about how the skills used in the workforce have been changing over time to help them frame the discussions they have with their students.

She also approached the topic of how Economics as a discipline can provide skills that are likely to be valuable in the future workforce.

Increase in the service sector

Analysing a number of general trends, Alexandra's statistics showed that most of the employment over the past 30 years or so has come from non-routine cognitive jobs. Most of the growth in routine manual work over her analysed 30-year period has been in the construction and mining sectors, while the number of routine manual jobs in manufacturing and agriculture has actually fallen. This trend is not new. The share of employment in manufacturing and agriculture has been falling for a very long time. The big increase has been in the service sector of the economy.

Technological advances will change our careers

The trends of employment by industry have been mainly driven by technological advances, whereby many routine tasks have been automated. Developments in communications and information technology have also made it possible for some more routine services, such as call centres and some back-office functions, to be delivered from other parts of the world where labour costs are lower. 

Non-routine jobs which require creativity, problem-solving skills and perhaps even the human touch have not declined in this way.

Although technological change has meant that some jobs have become redundant, Alexandra pointed out that it is important to remember that a whole new range of non-routine jobs have been created at the same time. Word processing and spreadsheets mean we no longer have typing pools and manual ledgers, but someone needs to design the software and someone is needed to train people in how to use these new technologies. Education is one of the keys to making sure that individuals can adapt to the changes in the workplace.

Economics is a great career choice

According to the data on what skills are required for different occupations, economists require significantly more analytical and complex problems solving skills, maths and programming skills than the average skilled occupation. The ability to communicate is also important. This makes it look like a good candidate for a future-proof occupation believes Alexandra.

The 2016 Census indicated that there are almost 3,000 people working in Australia who are classified as economists. This number grows a bit if you add in people who teach economics in schools or at university. Most economists have a degree in economics and are generally found in public policy, professional services and financial institutions.

So, doing an economics degree appears to give you a set of skills that are currently rewarded quite well. And doing an economics degree certainly doesn't mean you are destined to become ‘an economist’, although I can say that this can be a rewarding career.

Read Alexandra's full speech here.

You can also find out more about 'What is Economics' in this insightful video from The Reserve Bank of Australia.

Find out more

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