There are predictions that 47% of jobs will be replaced by machines in the next two decades in America, 10 million unskilled jobs are at risk from automation in the UK and the CSIRO has estimated that 44% of jobs in Australia are under threat from automation.
But, is it true? Are we facing a future with millions of jobless workers, their roles taken by machines? foundU surveyed their casual labouring staff to find their opinion on automation.
When asked if their job could be replaced by an intelligent machine, 100% of staff surveyed said no. They said machines couldn’t handle the complexity of the role, the environment and couldn’t understand tasks like a human worker.
There is an obvious disconnect between what researchers, businesses and governments are saying. Employees across many industries believe that they are irreplaceable, but the research (and the technology) says they’re not.
What the experts think
foundU spoke to leading experts worldwide to find their opinion on the future of automation and the workforces of tomorrow.
Alex Noelke, Career Services Manager at US career planning company Employment BOOST says this a common trait amongst younger workers. He thinks much of this generation is focused on living in the moment and it takes a paradigm shift to make them think about their long-term career (preferably before they are 25).
It is major issue when you consider that a new entrant to the workforce will have a career that will last for 40-45 years. Alex says it is tough to retool a career at 40, when the market is focused on hiring younger, cheaper talent.
Noelke also thinks the perception of automation depends on an employee’s industry. In more tech-centric American regions automation and robots are driving growth, creating jobs, and are primary wealth creators for the area. In more blue-collar, manufacturing areas industrial automation has devastated the manufacturing sector and taken jobs.
Overall, Alex said now isn’t the time to panic, you will be more likely to put your order in a fast-food restaurant on an iPad than have a robotic nurse draw your blood in the next 10 years.
An industry that has embraced automation is the financial sector which has seen huge productivity gains by using automation software.
Nick Chandi, Co-founder and CEO of Canadian accounting software SlickPie says automation software has been embraced by the industry. When asked if there were any slow-adopters, Nick says there have been few objectors due to the obvious benefits. In a busy tax season, CPA partners claim to save 20 mins to an hour per tax return using automation software.
Nick says he sees automation as the future of his industry. He said Australia is a leader in automation and innovation and that the message is being pushed a lot harder here than in Canada.
Alongside financial automation sits cryptocurrency. While not as automated as accounting software, users have coded software robots that are capable of trading Bitcoin independently. The financial sector will continue to be a hot-bed of innovation.
Automation in the resource industry
Michael Berger, Director of resource industry recruitment company Talent Blueprint sees Australian innovation first-hand at mine sites across the country. He says automation in the resource sector is becoming common with autonomous vehicles and machines being used.
He says there are opportunities for workers willing to embrace automation and data. Workers of the future need to be more analytical and capable of understanding and managing the performance data that comes from machines.
Michael acknowledged that there is a threat to jobs from intelligent machines. He says rather than focusing on robots, we should beware of offshoring work to Asia where workers are plentiful and up to five times cheaper.
What the scientists say
Computational Social Scientist Dr Daniel Angus from the University of Queensland agrees with this sentiment and says that everyone needs to be vigilant about their future job prospects either through digital disruption or other social change. Dr Angus pointed out some of the long-term effects of a robotised workforce and questions how wealth will be distributed post-disruption.
He asks will the 1% who own the machines, hold their wealth and force the rest into servitude? Or will we innovate our way into a shorter work week?
Who benefits when machines replace humans? Another aspect Dr Angus predicts is a return to niche, handmade goods and services. Not every human will be happy being served by a robot or use mass-produced goods.
The future is always complex and employers should realise that not all staff envisage the same workplace 20 years from now. Dealing with what The World Economic Forum calls the fourth industrial revolution will be a challenge. Understanding the disconnect between employers and staff and mitigating the fall out when jobs are replaced by robots will need robust policy, retraining and education.
The importance of STEM skills can’t be ignored when discussing future education. Australia needs students and graduates with STEM skills to continue being an innovative and successful economy. Malcom Turnbull understands the value of STEM skills and says they should be “the new kind of literacy” and just as fundamental to a person’s education as reading and writing.