While the move from agriculture to manufacturing to information-based economies worldwide has cost jobs in some sectors, this has been more than offset by a rapid growth in the technology, creative, care and business services sectors – typically with a corresponding increase in productivity, growth and global competitiveness.
In Australia alone, during the first 15 years of the 21st century, the workforce increased by some 32%, with job growth outnumbering job loss by a ratio of 10 to one. The loss of 220.000 jobs, mostly in the manufacturing and agriculture sectors, has been more than compensated for by the 3.9 million jobs that have been created in sectors including mining, business services, social services and construction.
Reductions in the cost of production of goods and services, only made possible through technology, has in turn increased supply, driven demand and ultimately created bigger and more complex supply chains, powered by human labour.
Rather than mass unemployment predicated on a surplus of labour, shifts in demographics from an aging workforce and declining birth rates are likely to drive a deficit of human labour. According to some analysts, roughly half the sources of economic growth from the last half century will evaporate as our population ages. Assuming this is the case, emerging technological developments, such as automation, AI and robotics, will be key to compensating for some of the shortfall in human capital.
Despite the change brought about by modern digital technologies, our ability to adapt and optimise the opportunities of digital change is testament to human innovation and resilience on the one hand, and the imperative for growth on the other. The fact that each year more than a million Australian workers – almost one tenth of the workforce – change jobs reflects the vitality and resilience of the modern workforce, a trend reflected worldwide.
But this does not mean we can be complacent. The pace and pervasiveness of technological change is a clear signal that focussing on a debate about whether we are on the brink of mass unemployment is pointless. Accepting that automation and new technologies will impact the nature of jobs and our workforce, and developing and committing to a planned response is where attention needs to be focussed.
More than 50% of Australians believe we need to be prepared to change careers or jobs as new roles emerge. To best adapt to technological change, we place a high premium on workers undertaking self-learning and further education, and on accessing professional development through our workplace.
The fact that only 25% of Australians believe that government will develop policies in areas such as education and training to support the transition to the new economy, highlights the concern that there is no clear plan or confidence that this will be done.
The distinction between government-driven and individual accountability points to a lack of confidence, at a national level, in a clear vision, shared commitment and plan for how Australia will adapt to and leverage technology in the future.
Navigate technology and the jobs of the future together with Government at our Summit 22 March in Canberra, and make sure you are prepared for a future in which technology is integral to the way we work!