Machinery has been replacing manual labour since the Industrial Revolution and through to the 1990s and early 2000s when the shift from manufacturing into a service economy unfolded.
The rise of automation capabilities presents yet another paradigm shift in labour practices. The Federal Government recently shared its plans to allocate $29.9 million over the next four years to strengthening Australia’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities. The government sees this as a competitive investment in Australia’s future and something that will give local businesses opportunities to lead the way in the development of products and services, while also creating more jobs in our backyard.
For generations, we have faced the fear that disruptive technology will render our roles as workers redundant. With the arrival of AI technology, it is no different. How do you stay relevant? You keep learning.
The Foundation for Young Australians’ “New Work Order” report projects that 70% of young Australians will get their first job in roles that will either look very different or be completely lost by automation, and that nearly 60% of our students are currently studying or training for occupations where at least two thirds of jobs will be automated.
I can’t even imagine the kinds of jobs my daughter will be doing. As a leader in education, these figures prompt me to think about what we can do to better position our students to successfully navigate the future of work.
A natural reaction to the introduction of technical advancements in the workplace is to fear job displacement or unemployment. However, in a modern, dynamic economy, displacement is expected and fear of rampant unemployment is misguided. Rather than seeing the advent of AI as a threat, we should embrace it and the new opportunities it will create.
“I can’t even imagine the kinds of jobs my daughter will be doing. As a leader in education, these figures prompt me to think about what we can do to better position our students to successfully navigate the future of work.”
To successfully embrace AI, we need better education and training resources to respond to the digital skills gap through reskilling and upskilling. We need to have systems in place that will equip both seasoned executives and the leaders of tomorrow with skills that are complementary to AI.
A 2017 survey of 1500 executives revealed that only 17% of them were familiar with the concept of AI — a statistic that sits uneasily for enterprises looking for a competitive position in the global market. Industry leaders, like realestate.com.au (REA Group), have recognised the present skills gap in the digital space. The group has partnered with institutions like RMIT Online to offer courses like the Digital Transformation program to respond to the global demand for hard and soft skills.
Yet, it will take time to fully integrate AI technology into the fabric of today’s economy, which is what we should be preparing for now.
AI is an inevitable step in the evolution of business, and it presents a number of opportunities, including paving the way to improved customer experience and more accurate predictions of customer behaviour. Employees, too, can benefit from an investment in human capital through upskilling measures to meet the anticipated needs of tomorrow’s workforce.
It is estimated that by 2030, 63% of all jobs will be made up of soft skill-intensive jobs. To confidently meet the needs of businesses in the digital future, we need to teach people how to work alongside new technology like AI and blockchain while also honing those uniquely human transferable skills, such as creativity, collaboration, leadership development, and the ability to critically and strategically analyse information.
While it is difficult to predict the full extent of the disruption our workplaces will feel with AI’s arrival, we do know for certain that the future of work will require different skills — skills that machines cannot readily replace. As employers and individuals, we must recognise that while the future of work will change, we have the power to determine how it will be shaped.
Helen Souness is a senior leader with a career that spans more than 20 years of commercial experience working in digital strategy, marketing and product across market-leading enterprises including Seek, Lonely Planet, Envato and Etsy. Helen has operated in General Manager, Managing Director and Board Director capacities for Envato, Canteen, Etsy and Sendle. Most recently as MD of Asia for Etsy, Helen’s team tripled the size of Etsy’s Australian seller community and entered new Asian markets. Helen was appointed to the role of CEO at RMIT Online in August 2017.