IF you turn your head slightly to the left, and listen really, really hard, you can hear it: ‘Suck, Suck, Suck’. It goes all through the day and all through the night. No, it’s not coming from Kevin in Canberra; it’s coming from mines in Queensland and Western Australia.
Trucking magnate Lindsay Fox says that we’re living though the biggest labour transformation of our lifetime. I agree. (So do the politicians, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything about it.)
The commodities boom has pushed up the Aussie dollar, and this threatens to hollow out anything in our economy that doesn’t dig up dirt. It’s happened before. It’s even got it’s own name – ‘the resource curse’.
Let me put it bluntly.
The mining industry is really the last sure bet for a ‘stable career’ in the future. Practically everything else is up for grabs. The old factory model of work, where people gathered in an office block, drank cups of coffee and bitched about the boss, is quickly dying.
It’s being killed by the internet, which has connected billions of profit-hungry people who are prepared to do things faster, (sometimes) better, and a lot cheaper. And it’s only speeding up.
According to recruitment giant Seek, an astounding 25 per cent of us change jobs each year. This suggests there are still jobs out there, but it ain’t all sunshine and cupcakes, particularly if you’re expecting a gold watch from any of following professions – the ones that used to be great but are now having a tough time.
The Debt Diet
I once knew a suburban real estate agent who employed a driver (read: a nineteen-year-old kid) to chauffeur him around to appointments (read: pick him up from the boozer each day after lunch). That was back in the boom. Neither of them works in real estate anymore, but it sure was fun while it lasted.
It’s a similar situation today with any jobs that feed off people borrowing dough: real estate agents, mortgage brokers (media reports suggest the workforce has shrunk by 20 per cent) and banking staff.
For the last 20 years the debt industry has been fat and happy as house prices grew nearly twice as fast as incomes. Now that lending growth is declining, it’s time for a diet, which is banker-speak for ‘send the jobs to Bangalore’.
Hello from Bangalore
If you’ve ever sat at work and said to yourself, ‘I could just divert my phone and do my job from overseas’, be careful what you wish for – there’s a good chance it will happen.
The first wave of outsourcing was generally the low-skilled jobs that people did while they studied for a ‘real job’. Today it’s the ‘real jobs’ that are being increasingly outsourced by Aussie businesses: the number-crunching a first-year accountant in Australia used to do is now done from Bangalore, IT systems are managed remotely from Serbia, engineering designs are produced in the Philippines.
Leave Dick Smith to his Aussiemite – sadly, this ship has already sailed.
(It’s a boon, though, for all you would-be entrepreneurs trying to create something at low cost. There are hundreds of thousands of workers on sites like odesk.com, elance.com and freelancer.com ready, willing and able to do whatever you need remotely, for a fraction of the price of getting it done here.)
Plenty of people bemoan the fact Australia doesn’t produce any ‘stuff’ anymore. Most of these people drive foreign cars, have imported electrical appliances, and wear shoes and clothes made in China.
While I feel sorry for the workers who are losing their jobs to lower-cost countries, I’m afraid there’ll be more to go.
If handouts from government are propping up your job, you’re really just rearranging Chinese-made deckchairs on the Titanic. The car industry reportedly gets $300,000 of protection per job, per year. That’s not sustainable. Especially given that Tony Abbott will soon be in charge – who knows what the hell he’ll do?
Are You Being Served?
My father runs a camera store in country Victoria. My old man doesn’t like the internet. People come into his shop, which employs half a dozen workers (and funds their sick leave, penalty rates and superannuation) and try to price-match him against a two-bit sweatshop in Singapore – who’ll send it to them in the post without charging GST.
I know when such a customer has been in his store. It provokes him to call me and rant about what’s wrong with people. My answer is always the same – “Dad, you’re up against three forces: some of the highest wage costs in the world, some of the highest rents in the world, and clicks that are eating your bricks.” And none of these looks likely to change.
Video Killed the Radio Star
I still don’t know what that song is about, but it fits nicely with my story. You see my business, the Barefoot Investor, is at the apex of two declining industries.
The financial planning industry is facing a demographic tap turn-off (most Boomers have their super sorted) and declining profitability because of (much-needed) government reforms. The future of financial advice is a giant computer at a bank with a minimum-qualified worker (in Bangalore) doing the data entry.
I also work in the media. Each year all the business journalists hold a Christmas party. On one side of the room sit the journalists, on the other those who’ve left to the dark side – public relations. And each year our side gets smaller.
Kerri-Anne Kennerley was right – Channel Nine is stuffed. But so is a lot of traditional media. When there were only a few channels, traditional media could do and charge what they liked. Now the internet has created millions of channels, and they’re all taking a slither of ad revenue that used to go to paying hard-working journos.
So, What Can You Do?
Short of donning a hard hat and heading underground, the only guaranteed way that you can play the greatest labour transformation of our times to your advantage is to excel in the only areas that can’t be outsourced: your specific skills and experience, your character, and your ability to lead people.
Twenty years ago I had only two options: syndicated columnist and financial advisor, both of which are now under pressure. But in this amazing new world I’ve been able to meld the two. With some low-cost creativity, cheap technology and a dash of integrity, I’ve been able to create a business that employs a high-performing team of Aussies – plus and a growing pool of foreign workers I’ve never met.
Here are the top 20 in-demand jobs for 2012 according to the nation’s biggest employment website, SEEK.
|Job Classification||Year on year growth %|
|Rail & Maritime Transport||188%|
|Quality Assurance & Control||154%|
|Policy, Planning & Regulation||87%|
|Insurance & Superannuation Law||80%|
|Agronomy & Farm Services||80%|
|Intellectual Property Law||76%|
|Mining – Drill & Blast||73%|
|Bakers & Pastry Chefs||65%|
|Mining – Engineering & Maintenance||63%|
|Water & Waste Engineering||61%|
|Health, Safety & Environment||57%|
|Mining – Exploration & Geoscience||57%|
|Welders & Boilermakers||54%|
|Analysis & Reporting||53%|
Here are my three takeaways:
There are no chimney-sweeps (all the positions involve some form of skill or training).
I’m told that most of the positions are geographically skewed to Queensland and Western Australia.
Despite the fact that mining only employs about 2 per cent of Aussie workers, most of the jobs made the list because the miners can’t fill the positions.