Jobs for secretaries and timber workers are being chopped out, says OECD

Secretary jobs are on the way out, says the OECD.
Secretary jobs are on the way out, says the OECD.

Is your job about to disappear? Or are your work skills going to experience a surge in demand this decade?

The post-pandemic world will be buzzing if you’re part of the IT crowd, an engineer or social worker in Australia. But there’s a target on your back if you’re a secretary, mail sorter, switchboard operator or timber worker.

In Joe Biden’s greening America, there’s likely to be huge demand for wind turbine operators and solar panel installers, but time is up for watch and clock repairers.

Oh Canada, where will you find all the specialist doctors, nurses and therapists you are going to need this decade?

Ageing Britain needs more carers, but not as many skilled in the metal trades. Perhaps BoJo’s trophy makers and engravers have lost their mojo. We’ll soon see.

In its annual Employment Outlook, the OECD uses medium-term projections of occupational demand in four countries to plot the winners and losers from vast structural changes such as digitisation and automation.

The projected rise in Australian employment for engineers in the five years to 2024 is 30 per cent, followed by social workers and ICT support and test engineers (both 29 per cent), welfare, recreation and community arts workers (28 per cent), and computer network professionals (26 per cent).

Technological change and working from home are wreaking havoc for office support staff. Among the five fastest declining occupations are secretaries (down 30 per cent), switchboard operators (down 19 per cent), and personal assistants (down 18 per cent).

Other local workers in the most vulnerable tier are timber process workers and mail sorters.

But their prospects could be worse than these pre-crisis projections.


Even before Covid-19 hit, automation, digitalisation, artificial intelligence and the use of big data were among the megatrends reshaping societies and work. Post-crisis, the pace of technology adoption is expected to remain unabated or even accelerate

Population ageing and climate change will shape employment trends, boosting the demand for workers in health care or in sectors related to the green economy. Yet many of the jobs projected to decline have borne the brunt of the current crisis.

“In Australia, for instance, online job postings for secretaries and personal assistants dropped in 2020 by 28 per cent and 37 per cent relative to 2019,” the report said.

“Prior to the pandemic, employment in those occupations was already projected to decline by 30 per cent and 9 per cent by2024 due to structural trends.”

The OECD said there was strong evidence to believe it won’t be “business as usual” after the crisis and vulnerable workers will need more support.

“Firms may use the crisis period to accelerate pre-existing trends (automation, digitalisation as well as the boost in the demand for professionals in the health care and green sectors), restructuring profoundly the way they produce and combine human labour with new technologies,” the report said.

“Going forward, many of the workers hit hardest during the pandemic may struggle to return to their previous occupations, due to a lack of skills and as firms profoundly restructure the way they produce and combine human labour with new technologies.

“Targeted support in the form of upskilling and retraining should be provided to the most vulnerable to ensure that the recovery is inclusive and does not leave anyone behind.”