Australia’s job market to shrink 11% with automation

Those who perform highly structured administrative jobs in finance, accounting and procurement are most at risk as automation continues to reshape Australia’s workforce

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Australia’s job market will shrink by 11%, or 1.5 million workers, by 2030, as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation continue to reshape the country’s workforce, a study has found.

The employees most at risk are those in finance, accounting and procurement who perform highly structured administrative jobs, of which a million would be eliminated by automation, according to Forrester’s Future jobs: Australia’s automation dividends and deficits, 2020 to 2030 report.

The analyst firm analysed 391 occupations tracked by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. To identify the jobs that will be most affected, the study grouped the occupations into 12 automation categories that share common skills and activities.

As automation gets more advanced, some jobs will be lost but new ones will be created (1.7 million by 2030), and several others will transform into the gig economy. Workers unable or unwilling to accept the transition will depart the traditional workforce entirely. By 2030, 63% of Australia’s cubicle jobs will be automated.

Knowledge diversity, however, will keep 27% of workers safe. Australia’s 1.2 million cross-domain knowledge workers will remain relevant due to the diverse skills their jobs require, such as identifying context and processing highly variable inputs.

Also, the need for superior human physical communication abilities and empathy will protect many human-touch workers, according to Forrester.

The most sought-after digital elites will grow by 33%, fuelled by demand for technical skills in areas such as big data, process automation, human-machine interaction, robotics engineering, blockchain, and machine learning. These will offset the 8% of more traditional technology roles that can be fully automated by 2030.

In the hunt for digital elites, organisations will also have to take note of the rise in the number of workers who will seek to align personal values and lifestyles with work.

Forrester noted that these “mission-based workers” for charities, social enterprises, and health and well-being services will become a significant new labour force, boasting more than 700,000 mission-based workers by 2030.

“Some of the biggest challenges that firms face in embracing automation technologies relate to culture and change management,” said Sam Higgins, principal analyst at Forrester.

“It’s critical that policymakers and employers learn how to minimise the number of digital outcasts by measuring the ability of individuals and organisations to adapt to, collaborate with, trust, and generate business results from automation, or else over 1 million Australian workers may be left stranded beyond the next digital divide.”

Forrester’s study uses a persona-based model to calculate actual job losses, job gains, and job transformations over time from automation to address an oversight in many current studies that had only considered job losses and did not specify a time frame.

To help workers cope with the impact of automation and technology disruption, some Australian companies have started programmes to train their employees.  

Woolworths, for example, is investing more than A$50m in a fund to upskill, reskill and redeploy employees over the next three years.

Technology skills that will be imparted under the fund include data analytics, machine learning and robotics, with further investment planned for advanced customer service skills, team leadership and agile ways of working.

The supermarket chain expects more than 60,000 employees across its store and e-commerce operations, supply chain network and support offices to benefit from the new investment.

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