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A new report predicts that robots will take over Australia’s workforce in 20 years


The ACS – The professional association for Australia’s ICT sector – in conjunction with the CSIRO’s Data61, ANZ Banking Group, the Commonwealth Department of Employment and Boston Consulting Group recently released a report which paints a future where Australians will work side by side with machines in jobs that today exist only on the margins or in our imagination.

The report titled, Tomorrow’s  Digitally Enabled Workforce: Megatrends and scenarios for jobs and employment in Australia over the next twenty years, identifies six megatrends for Australia’s workforce over the coming 20 years as a consequence of a combination of forces – technology advances, digital connectivity, globalisation, the ageing population and the rise of new economic structures.

For example: rapid advances in automated systems and artificial intelligence, digital technology and the new world of ‘platform economics’ changing employment markets, people becoming more entrepreneurial and creating their own jobs and increased use of automated systems is raising the complexity of tasks and requiring higher skill levels for entry-level positions.

CEO of the ACS, Andrew Johnson spoke to the importance of digital skills as an enabler of future productivity growth. “What is becoming abundantly clear is the need for better education in the technology space. This report shows us that digital skills will be a requirement not only in the tech space, but in almost every job in the next 20 years.

“If we are able to drive a greater focus on education, we will develop an economy that is driven by highly skilled, digitally literate workers. We can, and must, be at the cutting edge of innovation, especially in the creative and knowledge economies. This report provides us with challenges that need to be addressed, and we look forward to meeting them.”

Senator The Hon Michealia Cash, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women, launched the report in Sydney, saying, “The report has provided us with a deeper insight into the changing landscape of our workforce, brought about by huge technological shifts. How Australia’s workforce fares in the long term will depend on our ability to help workers make transitions to new and better jobs. Our biggest challenge will be to ensure no-one is left behind.”

The report “Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce” outlines a range of scenarios and trends which are shaping the jobs of the future in Australia’s economy. Taking a holistic view of the economy, the report identifies the future needs of a digitally skilled workforce and offers deep analysis of the challenges faced.

The megatrends each relate to a specific influence on the workforce, and are based on research undertaken by a team from CSIRO and Data61. They specifically address the exponential growth of technology, shifting nature of the labour market in a sharing economy, the rise of entrepreneurism, the need for greater demographic inclusion, the shift towards higher education standards and the growth of the creative, knowledge and service economies in the future,” she said.

What you need to know about the Megatrends

The second half of the chessboard

  • The internet of things (IoT) is at the early stages of growth. In 2006 there were 2 billion smart connected devices, in 2015 there are 15 billion devices.
  • Internet data usage in Australia as well as globally is growing exponentially. Roughly 2.5 exabytes of data will be generated on any given day in 2015 roughly the amount of data generated in total since the dawn of time until 2004.
  • It is estimated that 44 per cent of jobs in Australia are potentially at risk of computerisation and automation.

Porous boundaries

  • One in three working Americans is an independent worker. The Australian online company Freelancer connects over 17 million employers across 247 countries with the number of users growing from 1 to 10 million between 2009 and 2014.
  • A market for co-working spaces is emerging. In 2012 alone the number of co-working spaces in Australia increased by 156 per cent, disrupting the horizon for office lease.
  • The P2P market allows anyone to participate. P2P services (e.g. Airbnb, Uber, Etsy, Madeit, PPost) provide value through convenience, low barriers to entry and increased speed enabling people to transform their free time into paid work.

The era of the entrepreneur

  • Small businesses account for the largest proportion of employment in Australia – 43 per cent in 2012-13. The survival rates for small businesses have improved since the global financial crisis.
  • Australia has one of the world’s top five entrepreneurial ecosystems according to a ranking by Ernst and Young and is ranked third globally for overall entrepreneurship attitude by the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute.

Divergent demographics

  • Australia’s population and workforce are ageing. Nearly one in five Australians is expected to be over 65 years old in 2035, compared with one-sixth of the population today.
  • Nearly two thirds of the population could become dependent on those in the labour force by 2046.
  • Migrants arriving in Australia might counteract the ageing workforce and contribute to cultural diversity. Every year, over 80 per cent of arriving migrants are of working age, while only 54 per cent of Australian residents are of working age.

The rising bar

  • Upper secondary education is becoming a prerequisite for entering the labour market: the number of jobs available for highly-skilled labour is projected to more than double in 2019 compared with 1991.
  • Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) knowledge is associated with 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations, innovations and wage premiums. However, Australian youth demonstrate falling interest and performance in STEM. Today 11 per cent fewer year 12 students study maths than in 1992, and there has been a 35 per cent drop in domestic enrolment in information technology subjects at universities since 2001.
  • Australians are likely to face increasing competition, as the number of people with tertiary education is rapidly growing globally. In 2012 every third adult in OECD countries had a tertiary degree. By 2030 China and India are expected to provide nearly half of the tertiary educated people aged 25-34 and over 60 per cent of the STEM qualified workforce for G20 countries.

Tangible intangibles

  • The number of patent applications in Australia increased by nearly 50 per cent in the period 1999-2013 with the growth rate exceeding overall economic growth. It indicates a transition to a knowledge economy and a rise of knowledge-intense professions.
  • Service industries are major employers in the Australian economy. Driven by population growth and ageing, the highest 5-year growth (out to 2019) in employment is projected for health care and social assistance (18.7 per cent) followed by education and training (15.6 per cent).
  • Employment in the ‘creative economy’ has been growing at an above average rate for the whole economy. The sector is contributing 7-8 per cent of gross domestic product growth annually.
  • Generation Z (born 1995-2009) might demand new work environments. This generation tends to be creative, and digitally minded. Nearly 50 per cent of teens are connected for over 10 hours a day. However, members of Generation Z also prefer face-to-face communication over technology facilitated interactions, are looking for life-long learning and are hoping to change the world. They are entrepreneurial, with as many as 60-70 per cent wanting to start own business.