How’s The Australian Workforce Shaping Our Cities?

The Pandemic may have irrevocably changed the way the Australian population works. This in turn may also change our housing needs as people reduce their need to travel into the CBD or across town to an office complex.

Pre-COVID, you can think of the metropolitan structure as a ‘fried egg’. The CBD at the centre (the ‘yolk’) with people travelling in and out from suburbia. With Millennials one of our largest growing demographic moving into ‘home buying mode’, they may prefer to go into ‘hipster mode’, transforming inner-middle suburbs into social hubs where they live, work, socialise and network.

Post-COVID then looks more like a scrambled egg. The CBD is less ‘meaningful’ and multiple hubs are created throughout the metropolitan areas (again, most likely the ‘middle suburbs’ which are away from the CBD but not too far away so that the CBD loses its relevancy completely). Perhaps as the CBD becomes less ‘business’ hub and more ‘social’ hub (bars, restaurants, shows, etc.)

The ‘scrambled egg’ model can be more accurately described as the ’20 minute city’. Something that Plan Melbourne (Vic Planning Authority) for example, has been promoting for many years.

Figures from the from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) over a 5-year trend in various skill levels and job sectors also provide clues as to how the country’s labour force, (and subsequently our cities), might look in the future.  If you consider a scale of 1 – 5 with 1 being a high-skill level of employment (requiring high levels of education and training) and 5 being a low-skill level (little education or training), 2020 stats from the ABS and Labour Force indicate an increase in level 1 jobs and a decline in levels 2-5. In other words, we’re seeing an increase in doctors and engineers, and a decline in electricians, butchers, cleaners and sales assistants. Up until COVID, Level 4 type jobs (truck drivers, waiters, baristas) were increasing slightly, but have dropped due to the pandemic.

This suggest we are seeing a widening gap between higher income earners and the rest of the workforce as figures also show a correlation between high levels of education and higher income levels.

People with high incomes and those with lower incomes have similar needs, it’s just that the quality and/or quantity changes commiserate with their social and economic standing. As the workforce income gap changes, we are likely to see property prices driven specific to geographic catchments. Whether this means a return to the ‘egg yolk’ model we’re all used to, where inner city property prices are the highest relative to the rest of the metropolitan area, or we begin to see more ‘premium pockets’ scattered throughout the country time will tell.

In any case it will be interesting to see how our cities look 5-10, 20 years from now. The shift in the workforce along with the shaping factors of the Millennial generation will have an impact on home sizes, transport, cafe culture and family and shared spaces.