Are We Ready For Automation?

Author: Jake Herington

“Let’s be blunt; government and corporate Australia is spectacularly unprepared for automation” according to Ed Husic, Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy and Future of Work.

This outlook must change if Australian workers are expected to adapt to disruption caused as a result of automation. Researchers, Industry and Media have been warning governments for a while now that we need effective strategies in place to deal with displaced workers and changing employment trends. The corporate sector has also been reluctant to shift its thinking, wary of the short-term implications of job loss due to automation, and failing to embrace the potential long-term benefits such technology may provide.

Strong leadership and a clear vision for where this technology will lead us will be key for navigating economies through uncertainty. AlphaBeta, a strategic and economic advisory organisation provide two objectives that will allow Australia to take advantage of an automated workforce that could deliver the Australian economy more than 2 trillion dollars by 2030.

The first is for Australian businesses to increase their automation efforts. There is no point in holding off any longer. Automation is coming and the sooner the foundations are laid for this transition the easier it will be to adapt. Currently, Australia is lagging behind in this area. Only 9% of listed companies are making substantial investments in automation, compared to 20% in the U.S. and an average of 14% globally. Failing to increase this rate will ultimately act as a handbrake on our productivity growth in the future.

The second is for the Australian government to provide a strong policy framework to ensure that workers who are displaced by automation are redeployed. History has shown that technological disruption will eventually lead to increased prosperity, productivity and employment. Why should this time be any different? Machines have been continually replacing human labour since we have been able to develop such technology, but there has always been new jobs and new opportunities created as a result, even more so today. If we can develop strategies to effectively train and upskill affected workers, automation can be more boon than bust.

The Australian government’s’ Productivity Commission in 2016 put forward a research paper outlining the key roles governments will play in preparing for disruption caused by autonomous technology. The paper identified that the government will need to enable, regulate, mitigate risk and provide service (as well as going into much further detail) as the technology becomes further integrated into society. These areas provide a framework for policy makers to work within to ensure that Australia is well and truly prepared, as it will take a dedicated and collaborative effort from government, industry and community to get it right.

If we do, this life changing technology may see Australia prosper for years to come.

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