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Jobs of the Future: Greenie in Residence

Read Monday, 10 Nov 2014

As traditional jobs like those in the manufacturing sector decline, new kinds of jobs are on the rise. We hear from Matt Wicking, greenie in residence at Arts House (and an experienced sustainability consultant) about what his job entails, what his pathway was, what jobs of the future might look like … and how industry and universities can help young people be ready for jobs that haven’t been created yet.

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I quite like being able to tell people I’m a greenie in residence. It’s one of the hats that I wear. But each of the hats that I wear didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago. In my role, I’m the consultant trying to bring the future into the room or the organisation; that’s what I see a sustainability role as. It’s helping an organisation to look long-term. In economies like ours, where we have short-term reporting to shareholders and short-term profit goals and short-term strategic plans, that’s an increasingly important role.

I found my way into it after I was looking for something that would attach my passions to my job. That’s something people are increasingly looking for. And something that had broader meaning to it, that wasn’t just a paycheque. That’s really important to me.

My job is firstly about ideas, but I work with people who are in all sorts of industries. I’m working with people who run fertiliser companies, people who are artists creating things out there in the world, engineers – you name it.

People in my sector often joke about our role being basically to put ourselves out of a job. Ideally, you wouldn’t need a greenie in residence, because everyone’s doing this stuff. You wouldn’t need a sustainability consultant or a futurist, because this is part of what we do, or how we do what we do.

I thought I was just a young guy who didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it turned out my job hadn’t been created yet. I did a psychology degree and a commerce degree, and I’ve since done a masters in environmental studies. I was at university for six years before I got to the point of realising that there was this emerging, burgeoning space called environmental studies. It’s actually a really broad field and it incorporated the other stuff that I’d studied.

How do you prepare for jobs that haven’t been created yet? That question goes for orgnaisations, as well as universities. How do they function in a way that prepares for the future when we don’t know what that’s going to be? I think we’re always operating in uncertainty; it’s just about whether we acknowledge it or not. If you’re acknowledging it, that’s a first step. There are tools that we could be equipping people with at university that would stand them in good stead for any sort of future.

Good futures thinking is not about predicting the future, but thinking about what possible futures exist and how you might prepare for that. Skills like systems thinking, critical thinking, reflective thinking.

Systems thinking is about understanding the thing you’re doing in any moment and how that relates to the broader context. Most of us function in our day-to-day lives as if the human population is not destroying the biosphere at a rapid and increasing rate. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not sustainable on any measure and it’s problematic. Systems thinking would mean that you’d reflect on that and bring it into your practice. And it’s a continuing, ongoing process. Thinking across or between disciplines, not in silos, is another way of approaching an uncertain future. Working with others, collaborating, not doing it yourself.

My experience of uni was that we didn’t get a good understanding across disciplines, for example. I did a whole commerce degree and no one mentioned the word ‘ethics’ even once. You could do it: it was just an elective; it was optional. Same with doing a psychology degree, studying behavioural science but not being taught about what this thing called science actually is. That’s stepping back and looking at the thing you’re doing and what you’re going to do in the world and what impact it might have. I didn’t see that happening out there in the university when I did it, 10 or 15 years ago.

This is an edited selected transcript from the Wheeler Centre event, Question time: Jobs of the Future.

In our Question time series, audience members ask questions of the experts, guided by ABC TV’s Madeleine Morris. Join us for our next Question time event, Question time: Transport, on Wednesday 19 November.

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