Australians need to develop digital competencies

With nearly 40% of jobs expected to be automated, Australians need to develop additional skills to take on roles like robot teachers and empathy trainers

With predictions that as many as 40% of jobs in Australia could be handled by computers over the next 10 years, the nation needs to move away from its complacent mentality.

Earlier in September, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) released its Skills for today, jobs for tomorrow report, with its CEO Rob Fitzpatrick warning: “We cant turn our backs on technology; the fourth industrial revolution is coming, if it’s not already here.”

Although Fitzpatrick said alarmist views over mass unemployment were neither helpful nor realistic, he acknowledged that the report identified a profound shift in the workforce and the skills needed to succeed.

“The Australian attitude of ‘she’ll be right’ ain’t going to fly this time,” he said.

The AIIA, Australia’s peak computer industry body, also called on policy makers to anticipate the issues now, rather than wait until a real crisis took hold.

David Thodey, chairman of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Jobs for New South Wales, who spoke at the launch of the AIIA report in Sydney, cited statistics suggesting that as many as one million new jobs could be created by 2022.

He also argued that instead of 30-40% of jobs potentially being taken over by robots, the same proportion of tasks could be automated in 10 years.

Shara Evans, a futurist who also spoke at the launch, warned that the issue needed to be tackled with urgency lest “we end up with the dystopian future so many people are talking of”.

She said although the nature of work was changing, with rote tasks being automated, there were new roles emerging, such as heads of robot and human orchestration, robot teachers, empathy trainers, robot repairers, chief ethics officers and home technology specialists.

Evans also stressed the leading role that corporations needed to play in shaping the future: “If we wait for government to come up with plans for jobs in the future, we could wait until it’s too late.”

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She called for the industry to talk to people about repetitive aspects of their jobs that could be automated. Meanwhile, people need to commit to lifelong learning and develop digital competencies – beyond basic digital literacy – that would be in high demand in future.

Without digital competencies, a person will not have the skills to negotiate the digitally connected world that is now a reality, the AIIA noted, adding that people could face social and economic exclusion, along with fewer job opportunities.

Against this backdrop, the AIIA report noted that strategies need to be developed to ensure digital inclusion, construct transition pathways to future jobs and promote relevant skills development. 

The AIIA called for an increase in Australia’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) capabilities, along with a fresh focus on soft skills such as creativity, flexibility, tolerance of ambiguity, social intelligence, personal resilience and agility – all of which it said were essential for the economy and individuals to prosper in future.

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