Over the next decade, the way we do our jobs will change dramatically. The impact of new and emerging technologies, shifting economics, even environmental pressures mean most professions are in a continual state of change – with many struggling to keep up with the pace of transformation.
And for many people working across most industries – and those in the future – they must be ready and willing to keep themselves up-to-date with the latest information and training in a fast-changing environment.
For example, genome sequencing and precision therapies are on the way to making cancer a manageable condition rather than a lethal one. But it also means today’s practicing nurses will need to become quickly competent in tomorrow’s advances.
We spoke to five professionals across five industries about how their jobs are changing and what the next generation needs to do to prepare, adapt and thrive.
One third of our planet’s land is used for agriculture. It’s a lot, but bear in mind that 50 per cent of Earth’s landmass – desert, tundra, mountains and glaciers – is unusable. And our need for what agriculture provides doesn’t stop with land.
More than two thirds of the world’s freshwater is committed to agriculture and farming. And despite all of this, up to half of the global harvest is lost to insects or spoilage.
“These pressures, all taken together, intensify the drive to put the most intelligent minds into agricultural careers.”
The head of the University of Melbourne’s School of BioSciences, Professor Herbert Kronzucker, has worked on issues of world hunger since his post-doctorate, concentrating on rice as well as some of the most important crops that feed the world’s poor.
“The reason modern science needs to be brought to bear on this is because it would not be possible to feed the planet’s population of 7.5 billion with outdated farming methods,” he says.
Brendan Torpey is an example of those “most intelligent minds” Professor Kronzucker is talking about. Growing up on a potato and prime lamb farm at Newlyn, near Ballarat in Victoria, he holds a Bachelor of Agriculture from the University of Melbourne as well as a Graduate Certificate in Precision Agriculture from the University of New England.
He is now a lead adviser for the agricultural consulting firm Precision Agriculture and advises farmers, among other things, on grid soil mapping.
This is a process that allows farmers to generate digital maps identifying soil fertility and yield limiting factors which can inform the decision about where and when to plant.
“Agriculture is changing ever more rapidly and there are so many pressure points coming on to a business that you have to be adaptive,” says Mr Torpey.
“The most successful operators out there are those who are challenging the norm, trying new things and approaches and testing new ideas.”
While Ariani Anwar was studying for a BA in Art History, she enrolled in the Melbourne Juris Doctor, hoping to do Law as her post-graduate qualification. Instead she found herself doing Architecture as breadth – a subject offered to students to provide insight and experience in disciplines away from their main area of study.
“It’s not often you get the opportunity to so something outside your major discipline,” she says. “But I realised it was the direction I wanted to take.”
Ms Anwar switched her focus to the Master of Architecture. It’s a rigorous and challenging course, but she believes students coming from outside the traditional pathway offer new perspectives. “While you may not have the design skills initially, you have a different way of thinking, which is refreshing.”
And the profession will need these diversity of perspectives, says Paul Loh, lecturer in Digital Architecture design at the University of Melbourne. “In a sense, the profession is being pushed sideways with the expansion of information,” he says.
“There’ll always be a strong call for people doing building design as architectural practice, but there’ll be a much more segmented way of dealing with architectural practice.”
Mr Loh says new technologies in construction and manufacture, including 3D printing, offer new opportunities for architects, but equally, they present challenges. Some might shift into animation, set design, graphics and branding; while others specialise in “wayfinding” – designing ways to move through spaces such as airports or shopping complexes.
There are also opportunities in audio-visual technologies, from gaming to “walking” clients through designs in virtual reality.
“I think architecture is multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary now,” says Ms Anwar, now with respected firm John Wardle Architects. “By making a building you’re impacting the urban realm, aspects of sustainability; you’re impacting on people’s experience and their lives.
“So having a breadth of understanding about culture, society and environment is essential in that changing professional environment.”
Advances in technology and increasing specialisation are transforming the practice of law.
According to Associate Professor Jeannie Marie Paterson from the Melbourne Law School, a lot of work formerly done by junior lawyers – discovery for litigation, document checking and due diligence – is being done by technology, including artificial intelligence.
It was reported earlier this year that US banking giant JP Morgan is set to save an estimated 360,000 hours of paid legal work a year by using an artificial intelligence program to vet its commercial loan agreements.
“My view is that it’s a lot of the drudge work gone and lawyers will increasingly be required to use their higher-order analytical skills, and obviously their interpersonal skills, because that’s the bit a machine can’t replace,” says Dr Paterson.
And further rapid change is inevitable, Dr Paterson forecasts. In the US, technology is being used that can predict case outcomes, based not on the parties, but on the day and time a case is heard. Sophisticated dispute resolution tools may also mean less litigation.
But specialisation is also playing a role in industry transformation.
Sarah Hennebry’s path to a career as a Senior Associate Patent Attorney was a complicated one.
She began studying at the University of Melbourne in a combined degree in Science, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and in Arts. This was followed by a Doctor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Medicine and, finally, a Masters in Intellectual Property Law.
After a post-doctoral stint at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute – Ms Hennebry now prosecutes Australian and foreign patent applications and drafts patent prescriptions – specialising in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
An interesting and unexpected skillset that combined means Dr Hennebry is a unique expert in her field.
“It’s a constant learning experience and I do a lot more science now,” says Dr Hennebry.
“Whether it’s new developments in breeding new types of crop or developing medicines, I understand the way technology is being used in society in a much better way than I ever had.”
Over the last decade, technological advances have helped nurses care for patients more efficiently and safely. And those advances are likely to accelerate over the coming decade.
For the next generation of nurses, the wards and hospitals they work in are going to be vastly different environments, with a new set of pressures.
Melbourne’s Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre is a case in point. $50 million Australian dollars was earmarked for new technologies, including its internal communication system. Traditional patient alert buttons buzz the nearest nurse’s station when pressed – but the VCCC uses an integrated messaging suite that sends nurse calls from patients and medical alerts to staff through a handset.
It allows nurses to prioritise care, and differentiate between a patient wanting a glass of water, or letting medical staff know they’re in pain.
For Aliesha-Jane Fejgl, who’s studying her Masters of Nursing Science at the University of Melbourne on a Patricia Hyams scholarship, there’s a balance to be struck between the march of technology and compassion.
“With the advances in technology, robotics, genetics and artificial intelligence, we can achieve simplified, streamlined and cost-effective healthcare objectives,” she says.
“But we can’t lose the things you cannot quantify; things we should never put a price tag or time constraints on. Our humanity, our empathy and our heart.”
But here, like law, diversity plays an important part.
According to Associate Professor Marie Gerdtz who heads up the University’s Department of Nursing, nurses now come to the course with undergraduate degrees in science, the arts and humanities, even computer science and engineering.
These diverse backgrounds help graduates embrace new models for in-home care, care co-ordination for chronic disease and the rise of the nurse practitioner and clinical consultant.
“What we need are practitioners who have really great communication skills, are culturally aware, and have the scientific background to inform their assessment and care-planning,” says Dr Gerdtz. “And the technology is there to support them.”
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Think of a climbing frame in a kindergarten. To most of us it might be a simple structure promising children exercise and adventure, fun and games.
To senior lecturer Dr Caroline Cohrssen, whose research interests include young children’s demonstrations of mathematical thinking, that frame represented a tool and opportunity to explore positional language, such as “under”, “through”, “beneath” and “over”.
But for both Dr Cohrssen, and her Melbourne Graduate School of Education colleague Professor Tricia Eadie, it also emphasises a key element in early childhood education – intentional teaching.
The Early Years Learning Framework defines intentional teaching as a skill that “involves educators being deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and action”. It’s the opposite of teaching by rote or traditional methods simply because they have always been done that way.
Intentional teachers have an important understanding of childhood development and the wide range of guided experiences which lead children to specific academic goals. It is a skill that will be increasingly used into the future, changing a child’s experiences, expectations, environment, or social groups to maximise learning.
“We anticipate that early childhood education professionals will require increased discipline-specific content knowledge as well as effective teaching strategies,” says Dr Cohrssen. “This is consistent with current research that highlights the importance of high quality, intentional teaching and learning.”
Professor Eadie adds: “We absolutely expect our students to have extremely good face-to-face skills working in centres with children and families.
“But we have very high expectations of them understanding child development, of understanding the curriculum, that all learning experiences are intentional – that you can have a teaching intent behind every experience.”
Like everything, early childhood education is rapidly evolving, through technology and Government-mandated National Quality Standards and Early Years Learning Frameworks.
“Play will remain the conduit for learning, but the focus will be on intentional, supportive learning through play,” says Dr Cohrssen. “Equipping children to be happy and competent and successful in their lives now and in the transition to school and beyond.”
Out on the further reaches of where art intersects with science, fascinating and bizarre things can happen.
Increasingly, Arts graduates are finding their way into work in the once tightly-guarded fields of science and technology and Dr Ryan Jefferies is a case in point. After completing a PhD in infectious disease research, specialising in molecular parasitology, he went into the laboratory, conducting postdoctoral research in Australia and the UK.
But then, five years ago, he shifted focus, becoming curator at the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology at the University of Melbourne. Last year, he became creative director for Science Gallery Melbourne’s inaugural season of Blood.
“I have always been interested in the connection between science and art,” he says. “People think they’re very discrete disciplines and like to box them, but for me science is very creative and there’s lots of similarities in the thought processes of both artists and scientists.”
In the future, he says, up to 75 per cent of jobs will be in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – or STEM – disciplines.
The Science Gallery, a concept that began in Dublin and is being replicated around the world, aims to add Arts – so STEM becomes STEAM.
“Looking ahead, society faces great challenges – climate change, antibiotic resistance, even the threat of Artificial Intelligence to the human species. These are what young adults are going to be tackling in the future through their professions,” says Dr Jefferies.
“How do you equip those people to meet those challenges? We can’t look at it in traditional ways anymore – it’s around hybrid thinking, equipping young adults with inter-disciplinary skills, of really mixing things up to encourage creativity and innovation.”
The model is artists becoming science communicators, he adds, and we will see that more in the future.
“Too often, science can seem like gobbledygook, bringing artists in to reinterpret that, to develop an artwork that is engaging and accessible and less confronting is a way to get the general public thinking about these concepts.”