An important learning from the last Australian federal election, is the importance of getting the narrative ‘right’. Despite both parties supporting messaging about innovation being key to Australia’s competitiveness and growth, in the end what the electorate heard was: innovation means using more technology, technology means disruption, digital disruption means jobs are disappearing – ‘I’m going to lose my job’.

New technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning, are surfacing a fresh anxiety. Alarmist views that nearly half of our modern-day workforce will be replaced by these technologies and that mass unemployment is around the corner are neither helpful nor very realistic.

This is not to say that technological change does not affect the labour market. Technology disruption, as it has through history, will displace some industries, companies and workers, particularly workers that are vulnerable or older, and lack the skills and flexibility to adapt. At the end of the day, technology won’t replace workers – workers who use technology will probably replace workers who don’t.

Despite fear that innovation and digital disruption will lead to job loss, 54% of Australians still believe technology creates job opportunities. While some jobs and people will be impacted more than others, technology will improve the way we work and open up new opportunities and jobs. Australians need a positive and confident narrative about a future in which technology is integral to the way we work, and assurance that mass unemployment is literally not around the corner.

The policy issues that arise to manage this are, arguably, no different today than at any time in the past. What is different, is that the pace of technology, coupled with the rapidly contracting lag between when new technologies emerge and new skills are required, demands a more urgent response.

We need a narrative about the impact of technology on how we work and how the types of jobs we do will be managed. A narrative focussed on the urgent need for a practical strategy and an action plan for the future of jobs. This includes a clear strategy for preparing for this future and specific policy responses to issues, such as the adjustment and re-employment of workers who are displaced; concerns about digital exclusion; and more broadly, an understanding of what skills will be required and how they will be developed.

Make sure you’re part of this important conversation and register for the AIIA Navigating Technology and Jobs of the Future Summit in Canberra, 22 March. Secure your early bird discount by 7 February!