The rapid pace of technological advancement is set to drastically change the traditional jobs landscape and will have a polarising impact on society, the Many Futures of Work conference heard.
Australian Research Council Fellow and Professor at the University of Sydney, Hugh Durrant-Whyte, said at the Melbourne Business School event that within 10 years, 40 per cent of current jobs would no longer exist because they were already on the way to being automated.
“The key problem is that technology is hollowing out the jobs market, so you are getting people who are at the top end who critically apply technology to solving problems, and then you get people at the other end… and all the traditional jobs in the middle are being automated,” Professor Durrant-Whyte said.
“So anything to do with analysis, anything to do with truck driving, using information to make decisions is all being automated by computers.”
Professor Durrant-Whyte said the changing job market would also compound social issues.
“I think the biggest worry is the polarisation of jobs and skills, increasingly even now graduates are struggling to find jobs because all of those jobs are being automated out. We’ve got to rethink what a career looks like in general,” he said.
“An enormous social divisiveness is headed in our direction, and you see this already in Europe and the US and it hasn’t quite hit Australia yet, and I think there’s going to be a lot of issues around that whole area.”
According to Durrant-Whyte, a change in current education and training practices is needed. As Pro Bono Australia News previously reported, young Australians are studying for ‘dying’ jobs.
“The challenge is two-fold. One, how do we deal with that polarisation, how do we think about training people to deal with it, how do we deal with it socially, because I think it’s very divisive, and it’s certainly happening before Australia in the US and Europe,” he said.
“And I think the second thing is how we prepare school kids and university students train for jobs that are actually going to exist.”
General Manager of Research and Policy at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Shelley Mallett, said while the pace of innovation would benefit some, there would be those who lose out.
“There’s obviously massive, massive change with a large degree of job loss and job reorientation and that’s going to affect some people more than others,” Mallett said.
“The winners clearly will be people with high skills and maybe people in the service industry, but... technology will replace certain things that they do in the service industry, which means they may get worse pay, worse conditions, less stability and security in the workforce.
“For the Not for Profit sector interested in this… these are the people most likely to lose out with low education, low skills.”
Mallett said changing the focus of education wasn’t enough, and there needed to be support at a policy level to share the opportunity while providing a safety-net for others.
“We need to take into account all of these issues around industrial relations and workforce to make sure people have enough efficient basic income and decent living wage so they can navigate the future,” she said.
“There’s going to be opportunity in it as well, so we’re not completely pessimistic about it, it’s just trying to navigate that opportunity so there’s opportunity for a diverse group of people and not just select sectors.
“And then that work should change into more dedicated policy planning in how to mitigate the risk – the way that we do educational training, the way that we look at industrial relations, the minimum wage.”
Mallett said the Brotherhood of St Laurence began following the impact of technology on jobs 20 years ago and aimed to integrate training into its services.
“There’s things to be done around practice in the way we integrate technology into our social work practice.. but also the way we think about creating training opportunities and learning opportunities and work opportunities for disadvantaged groups,” she said.
“We work in particular with young people and vulnerable mature aged workers, and we’re really interested that in our practice and in our design of our programs we integrate technology and knowledge about technology into those activities.
Mallet said all Not for Profits had a role to play in supporting vulnerable Australians through the shifts, but it would be challenging.
“They have an absolutely crucial role and multiple roles to play, and they also need to adapt to this changing environment as well, which is quite a profound shift for charities in the next 10 to 20 years,” she said.
“I think they’ve got the intellectual resources to adapt, but technology brings cost and affording what’s going to happen in terms of technologies is going to be challenging. I think they’ve begun but there’s a long way to go.”