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Entwickler mit einem Model des Knickarmrobotes, Knickarmroboter im Hintergrund, Mehrzweckroboter (Getty Image)

Nearly half of Australian jobs will be replaced by machines in less than twenty years. In a world that is increasingly wired to technology, how can we future proof our skills to stay relevant?

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Thursday, May 9, 2019 - 10:20
File size
6 min 36 sec


The “Future of Work” report from the World Economic Forum shows that the world is going through a rapid change.

As businesses join the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the physical, digital and biological boundaries are no longer clear-cut.

President of the Australian Computer Society, Yohan Ramasundara, says repetitive tasks are most likely to become automated.

“The kinds of jobs that are going to be affected by automation and the introduction and advance in technology like artificial intelligence is going to be the ones at the lower end of the spectrum, which is processing jobs, so they don’t need clerks to go through reams and reams of documents to find something. You just simply use artificial intelligence to simply get the answers for you so that cuts down those processing jobs.”

We may start using machines to drive trucks, manage accounts or take care of dangerous tasks for us.

But how can we identify the types of skills to learn for better future job outcomes?

Chancellor of Swinburne University Professor John Pollaers chairs the Australian Industry and Skills Committee.

He says with people expected to retire later in an ageing society, it makes sense to keep reinventing yourself.

“Committing to continuous education. Looking at your skills and presenting them in a way on your CV or in the interviews that keeps them contemporary.”

Businesses may see the millennials and the younger Generation Z as being more tech-savvy than the Baby Boomers.

However, Professor Pollaers says mature workers are actually good at adapting to change after surviving the evolution of the computer and the internet.

“Generally speaking, the way you do your work evolves roughly every five years in terms of application of new technologies, softwares and so forth, but the changing job roles and overall job approaches is roughly every 10 years.”

Professor Pollaers recommends that those of us intending to stay working right up to the point of retirement focus on continuous personal and professional growth.

He also cautions against being too nervous of sudden change.

“It’s not like an Uber or an Air B&B strikes in a moment and all of a sudden, you find yourself out. Even robotics has taken quite a long time to penetrate the workforce. There’s a whole area now called ‘Industry 4.0’ which is around the connection of the cyber and physical world in the application of technology in the workplace but there are many businesses that still operate at that first - industrial revolution, two - the application of process automation, and three - the application of computing. There are many businesses that still operate at that level.” 

According to the report, in just three years, 75 million jobs will vanish whilst 133 million new jobs will be created.

Yohan Ramasundara doesn’t believe automation will fully replace the human touch.

“When the machines were introduced to the agricultural world, it didn’t actually get rid of agriculture. It really disrupted the agriculture market but that meant the people were able to do more with less and the people were doing more higher value jobs so that’s why it’s really important to reskill the workforce.”

Yohan Ramasundara believes mature workers are well-placed with the soft skills needed to survive in the age of artificial intelligence as Generations Y and Z are just starting to gain life experiences.

“Work with machines. Don’t be afraid to work with automation. Be comfortable in using the machines. Be comfortable in connecting with the machines. Be comfortable with connecting with each other. So as the machines become the norm, the connection with individuals, interpersonal communications become so important. So, the skills that we learn in kindergarten are going to be really really important as the machines become the norm. So, empathy, working with each other, collaboration, cooperation. All those skills become super important.”

The global trend highlighted in the report shows that by 2022, around half of the global workforce will either need to up-skill or re-skill.

Whilst many jobs are set to be disrupted, Matt Kunkel, director of the Migrant Workers Centre, says such fears are not yet noticeable amongst Australian’s multicultural workers.

“What we find at the moment, at Workers Centre, is that people are presenting to us, having been exploited in the work place where they haven’t been the paid the correct money, not just in wages but in their superannuation.”

Kunkel is concerned about workers’ right as a result of over five million Australian jobs likely to become automated in less than two decades.

“What we are increasingly seeing is that jobs that are being created in this new age are insecure and low paid, so the real challenge for many people who are transitioning out of older style jobs is how do they continue to make ends meet when the paying conditions are much much lower.”

The answer could be a lifetime of learning to stay relevant in the fast-moving world of technology according to Professor Pollaers.

Rather than considering new qualifications, he suggests learning from modern students who create their own learning programs even during formal education.

“You can either accumulate that by doing a vocational education training program where you just do some units. Of course, there’s also degree opportunities. Even to the extent to which you can identify the area of interest and go and listen to YouTube videos or read more broadly or just ensure that you’re talking to people who are working in those areas are all ways in which you can start to adapt and gain the skills.”