Facing a changed workforce

Tue, 9th May 2017
PREVIEW

With artificial intelligence and automation set to replace many jobs in the near future, My Weekly Preview spoke to thought leaders, industry insiders and innovators to find out how we can prepare ourselves for a radically different future. 

When people consider what our employment industry might look like in the future, many still envision scenes from Back to the Future with flying cars and hoverboards and believe it’s still a discussion for “tomorrow”. 

However, as stories of a brick-laying robot, a Japanese hotel manned by robots and a super computer, named Watson being touted as the world’s best doctor continue to flood our news feeds, it’s clear that it’s not a discussion we should be holding off any longer. The future is already here and it’s a discussion that needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. 

A concerning recent report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia showed that 40 per cent of Australia’s workforce, more than five million people, could be replaced by automation in the next 10 to 20 years. 

Furthermore, technology investor and former Microsoft executive Daniel Petre says within 30 years, if not sooner, artificial intelligence and automation will be able to do everything humans can do.

“Anyone in a driving job is toast, they’ll all be driverless cars and trucks,” Petre says. 

“General practitioners will be impacted by big-data analytics in diagnosis, and surgeons will be impacted by advanced robotics surgery.”

According to one of the world’s top thought leaders and an author on the future of work, Lynda Gratton, the days of artificial intelligence and rapid job change are already here.

Gratton is a professor of management practice at London Business School where she leads the Future of Work Consortium. 

“I have no doubt that we are in an era of the most extraordinary change we’ve ever faced”

“I have no doubt that we are in an era of the most extraordinary change we’ve ever faced,” Gratton says. “It’s not in the future anymore, it’s actually happening now.

“Yes, technology may be changing the way we work, but it’s also providing new and exciting opportunities.

“In the short term, the jobs that seem to be most valuable right now are those in the digital space. This is an area that is moving very quickly and the skills aren’t there yet.”

An analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the report A Smart Move, found shifting just one per cent of the workforce into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles would add $57.4 billion to Australia’s GDP (net present value over 20 years).

“Businesses competing in a global economy driven by data, digital technologies and innovation will need more employees trained in STEM,” PwC’s partner, consulting, Jeremy Thorpe says.

It’s for this very reason that the Sunshine Coast branch of Regional Development of Australia (RDA) has been working with key stakeholders to launch a number of coding and programming courses. 

In February, RDA with TAFE Queensland East Coast launched a Coding and Programming course for adults wanting to upskill. The second round of the course will run later this month. RDA is also working on a Startup Business Curriculum for students in years 11 and 12. The course, in conjunction with TAFE Queensland East Coast, Mountain Creek State High School and Spark Bureau, will encourage innovation and entrepreneurship and create jobs for the Coast’s youth. It is expected to be rolled out in 2018.

RDA Sunshine Coast CEO Darrell Edwards says the idea is to develop the Coast’s talent pipeline to attract businesses to the region and ensure employers don’t have to bring people in to fill jobs.

“Technology can innovate on known things, but creativity allows you to visualise future possibilities”

“While programming and robotics courses are to be implemented in Queensland schools from grade five, it was recognised that there is no vocational/tertiary coding and programming curriculum currently available to give people the skills to make them employment-ready or upskill them in their current positions,” Edwards says. 

“Consultation with local businesses suggested that there are positions available; however they had to look outside the region to fill jobs due to limited skills and experience on the Sunshine Coast.

“We’re determined to make sure the course focuses on creating employment options and also working with local employers who are desperate for staff who can code and program. 

“The feedback has been ‘if you can teach them the core skills, we’ll teach them the rest’.”

According to Gratton, regional communities such as the Sunshine Coast, will continue to experience real growth, provided the support and infrastructure is in place.

“With the rapid development of freelance platforms and the increasing sophistication of communication, it’s possible that the future of work will be as much about what happens in regions as it is about what happens in cities,” Gratton says. 

“This is good news for people who want higher quality of life and the opportunity to live outside the expensive and often polluted major cities.”

Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby recently backed the Sunshine Coast as the most entrepreneurial area in the whole of Australia. Further to this, Bernard Salt, in The Activated City: Imagining the Sunshine Coast in 2040 report described the Sunshine Coast as “one of regional Australia’s leading startup cities” in large part because it naturally fosters a number of new small businesses each year.

“Sowerby attributed the innovation and entrepreneurship coming out of the Sunshine Coast to the people and community that have connected the dots to support such a unique culture,” Edwards says.

“One of the most important factors to ensure entrepreneurs thrive is collaboration. The Sunshine Coast has a unique entrepreneurial and startup ecosystem where new ideas are actively encouraged and supported; ideas are nurtured through industry collaboration and supported by mentoring, and where startups thrive.”

Gratton says one of the positives about the way the world of work is changing is that people have more choices and are not locked into the traditional 9 to 5 work life anymore. 

“We have more opportunities to do different types of work, different ways of living with others in communities or independently, all sorts of ways to explore their identity and their possible selves,” she says. 

“But of course this comes with a need for people to take more responsibility for the choices they make and also understand the consequences of those choices.

“To do so, we need to be prepared for the age of continual reinvention, where it will become mandatory to keep on learning to remain relevant.

“There are three types of assets: productivity, vitality and transformation. It’s this third asset, transformation, that is so crucial for the future. It really is about the process of reinvention, the idea that in a long life there are many possible selves that you can explore and in this long life reinvention becomes crucial.”

The Sunshine Coast’s Mic Black is a master of reinvention. The former graphic designer has reinvented himself numerous times to continue to be at the forefront of future industries. 

In 2015, he left his full-time job to self-train in the area of electronics. Simply put, he is now an inventor for hire. 

Black was recently selected to take part in the state government’s Advance Queensland Community Digital Champions program. As part of the program, he will take part in a regional roadshow that will visit Longreach, Mt Isa, Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Cairns to discuss new technologies. 

Due to his passion in this space, he has elected to stay on further at each location, at his own expense, to host hackathon days on local farms, engage schools and meet-up groups, host train-the-trainer sessions and inspire creative uses of technology.

“One activity I’m running is for students in grades seven to nine to participate in a hands-on workshop on how to quickly transform almost anything into an ‘internet of things’ device,” Black says. 

“This includes anything from radio control toys, garage doors, lights, artworks, musical instruments to heavy machinery and driverless cars using code and electronics.”

While on the road, Black will also work towards his goal of bringing the world’s leading festival of invention and creation, the Maker Faire, to Queensland. The Maker Faire is a gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students and commercial exhibitors. 

Black says it’s not just technology we need to embrace to remain relevant in the future. 

“Creativity is critically important in the future,” he says. “Technology can innovate on known things, but creativity allows you to visualise future possibilities. 

“In combining creativity and technology you take past learnings and future thinking and accidentally discover ways of creating better human experiences both socially and economically.

“The Maker culture is highly compatible with the startup culture as they move fast, break things, adapt and share. With a ‘do it and see’ approach, it’s less concerned with traditional modalities and ways of working. 

“While this can be self-fulfilling it can also lead to real commercial products and solutions such as most of the technology related campaigns listed on Kickstarter. 

“Having an entrepreneurial mindset is great, but without the creativity and technical appreciation, it’s just business, selling other people’s stuff, and not really innovation.”

“Eventually anyone who expects to be treated like a robot (i.e. given instructions to follow without accountability) will be replaced by a robot – that includes people in tech, it’s already happening.”

Gratton agrees and says in the medium- and long-term, it’s likely that unique human skills will come to the fore. 

“Expect to see jobs to do more with innovation and creativity and really jobs that have a high element of customer experience,” Gratton says. “If you have the combination of all three, you will be well placed in the future.”

Fast Facts
• Shifting just one per cent of the workforce into STEM roles would add $57.4 billion to Australia’s GDP
• Bernard Salt’s, The Activated City: Imagining the Sunshine Coast in 2040 report described the region as “one of regional Australia’s leading startup cities”
• For more information about the coding course visit tafeeastcoast.edu.au/course/17760/introduction-coding-short-course 
• Anyone interested in joining Mic Black in bringing the Maker Faire to Queensland visit readiness.io.