Pessimistic claims that almost five million Australian jobs – around 40% of our workforce – will be replaced by computers in the next 10-15 years are unhelpful on two counts. Firstly, they fail to consider the new and additional jobs that will be created by new technologies. Secondly, they ignore the fact that job disruption and destruction have been features of economic development across centuries.

Experience as recent as the rise of computerisation and the Internet in the latter part of the 20th century, which predicted mass displacement of millions of jobs and workers, indicates that this scenario is unlikely. Further, history repeatedly demonstrates effective augmentation – rather than substitution – of human labour by technology. For example, the shift to automated teller machines freed up staff and created new opportunities to sell a greater range of services.

The fact that technology has been a significant driver of job creation is important:

  • 54% of Australians believe that while there have been many technological revolutions throughout history, new industries and jobs have emerged each time
  • >50% believe Australia is a strong and stable country that will adapt to change
  • 45% believe that Australian entrepreneurs will take advantage of emerging opportunities in new industries and start new businesses

While some work in almost all occupations will be automated, only 5% of jobs can be fully automated by adopting currently known technologies. Rather than changing what jobs we do, automation is changing the way we do our jobs.

Machines are predicted to take over an additional two hours of routine and manual work in an average Australian work week by 2030. Most of this change won’t come from people changing jobs, but from people doing the same job with fewer manual and routine tasks – typically tasks that are the most dangerous, tedious and the least likely to pay well – and includes blue and white-collar jobs that involve mostly routine, repetitive and predictable tasks.

So, while a growth-oriented innovation narrative failed to resonate in the 2016 election, Australians still perceive the importance of technology and innovation to our growth. Despite concerns about the impact of emerging technologies, such as AI, automation, data analytics and robotics, 97% of Australians are optimistic about work and job opportunities.

As it has in the past, the labour market will change in response to new technology. While some jobs and people will be impacted more than others, new opportunities and new jobs will emerge.

However, we cannot afford to be complacent this time round. Navigate technology and the jobs of the future at our Summit 22 March in Canberra, and make sure you’re future-proof!