Will robots send unemployment soaring?

Australia is challenged by a worsening skills shortage that requires an urgent response

Will robots send unemployment soaring?

Australia is challenged by a worsening skills shortage that requires an urgent response from business leaders, according to new research from Deloitte Access Economics.

Deloitte partner David Rumbens is the lead author of the report The path to prosperity: Why the future of work is human, the latest research in the firm’s Building the Lucky Country series.

Rumbens said contrary to the beliefs of many, we don’t face a “dystopian future of rising unemployment, aimless career paths and empty offices”.

“Yes, technology is driving change in the way we work, and the work we do, but it’s ultimately not a substitute for people,” he said.

He added that technology is much more about augmentation than automation, and many more jobs will change in nature because of automation, rather than disappear altogether.

“We can use technology to our advantage to create more meaningful and productive jobs involving more meaningful and well-paid work. And making better choices to facilitate this, could boost national income in terms of GDP by $36 billion a year,” Rumbens said.

“That today’s jobs are increasingly likely to require cognitive skills of the head rather than the manual skills of the hands won’t be a surprise.

“But there’s another factor at play. Employment has been growing fastest among less routine jobs, because these are the ones that are hardest to automate.” 

The research found more than 80% of the jobs created between now and 2030 will be for knowledge workers, and two-thirds of jobs will be strongly reliant on soft skills.

“Yet something new is also happening,” Rumbens said. “Jobs increasingly need us to use our hearts – the interpersonal and creative roles, with uniquely human skills like creativity, customer service, care for others, and collaboration that are hardest of all to mechanise.

Demand here is set to soar for decades, and this is actually a “liberating trend”, according to Rumbens.

“Much of the boring, repetitive work will be taken care of by technology, leaving the more challenging and interesting work for humans.”

As work shifts to skills of the heart, Rumbens said the research reveals that Australia already faces skills shortages across a range of key areas critical to the future of work.

“These new trends are happening so fast they’re catching workers, businesses and governments by surprise,” Rumbens said.

At the start of this decade, the typical worker lacked 1.2 of the critical skills needed by employers seeking to fill a given position. Today, however, the average worker is missing nearly two of the 18 critical skills advertised for a job, equating to 23 million skills shortages across the economy.

“This skills gap is significant, and it’s still growing. If we continue as we are, our national skills shortage will grow to 29 million by 2030, and far-and-away the bulk of those ‘missing skills’ will be those of the heart,” he said.

Deloitte will be featuring on a panel discussion at the upcoming HR Summit Perth. To register, click here!

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