Australia, we have a problem. The robots are coming and we’re not ready for them yet.
It’s true. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are set to automate swathes of manual tasks and, with it, eradicate the need to employ humans for those manual tasks.
But, before you get too anxious about the robot takeover, or rue the day technology disrupted our workforce, hear me out. This is not new.
Technology has always shifted our workforce. Whether you’re looking at the tractor, the sewing machine, or the computer — it’s changed what people do, how they do it, and for how long.
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It might be hard to see them as ‘new technology’ but steam power, railways, and electricity all played a major role in the industrial revolution and completely rearranged the workforce while they were at it.
Their introduction meant things could be done faster and, in some cases, completely removed the need for human labour. It’s clear that cycle is now repeating.
Recent technological shifts have, in fact, led to high growth and employment opportunities in many ICT roles and fields.
According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs 2018 report, AI is expected to create nearly 58 million new jobs by 2022.
This research also found that although nearly 50% of all companies expect their labor forces to shrink by 2022 due to automation, 40% expect to extend their workforce, and more than 25% expect automation to create new roles in the company.
There are new opportunities arising, but as it stands, our workforce lack the skills to seize them.
Which brings us to the root of the problem. Australia’s education system is not designed to respond to new changes in the labour market, and a lack of regulatory control means students are enrolling in fields where job prospects are expected to be low.
Our latest research, which analysed education and workforce data, revealed close to three quarters (73.95%) of students studying society and culture, including law, and political and international studies, will not find a job in their field. Also, 87% of fine arts students and more than 70% of natural and physical science students are destined to not find a job in their field.
There is a lot that a university education provides that is not just a direct path to a job, but if you consider the lack of skills in our workforce for high-opportunity industries like cyber security and robotics, it’s clear our education system is out of step with where the workforce is heading.
There is no overarching mechanism between education and employment outcomes in this country and no real incentive for universities to create one.
The answer is not simply to funnel people into different degrees — asking every graduate or career shifter to undertake a four-year course in cybersecurity will not solve our impending skills gap.
To move forward, we must support job seekers, students and workers so they can make informed decisions and easily identify which industries are high-growth.
But we also we also need to rethink how we skill and train our workforce to adapt to the rate of change set with new technology.
In my experience, there are huge misconceptions about what equips you for a job in technology.
Tech roles are regarded as complex, elite and inaccessible for your average Australian, which leads to individuals holding themselves back from pursuing opportunities and to employers not realising the full potential of their existing employees.
The reality is that there are diverse roles for a variety of aptitudes, interests and skills in technology, but we need to take responsibility and train Australians for the ‘future of work’ now.
The robots aren’t ‘taking our jobs’, they’re creating them.