There was a load of chatter in 2016 about technology automation sweeping through the skilled, "white collar" workforce and removing millions of jobs. No longer just the worry for unskilled workers in assembly lines and warehouses…now the finance clerks, accountants and even doctors & lawyers were in the headlights of an oncoming Mack Truck moving at high speed (think broadband in Estonia).
Sure there were and still are plenty of naysayers…"we've seen this all before and everything worked out fine" - "the market economy will create new jobs in the wake of the next industrial revolution, just like it did in the last", etc, etc.
Rather than provide you another macroeconomic view of this phenomenon…I wanted to share a very real, local side of this story…something that drove it all home for me. Here's an Australian slice of the workforce impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution. (note that the names have been modified to protect the identities of those involved)
I'd like to introduce you to…"Mr. Damien". Damo is a middle aged, motivated, certified professional in the midst of a very successful career working for a large global accountancy firm. His services are well regarded from a host of small to medium sized businesses - his customers.
At some point in 2016, after a series of alarming articles and reports like this one from Oxford's Frey & Osborne that 47% of jobs were up for technological displacement…Damo was feeling a bit uneasy. Armed with what he felt was enough publicly available research, he took the with his boss. "Have you read these reports?" he asks. "Should I be worried about the future of our business…our team…my job?" To his horror…the immediate response was an unemotional…"Yes, we're likely to be out of work in the next 5 years."
Holding back his utter shock at this response…he calmly asked…"So what are you and the senior management team doing to prepare us for this…is there a transition plan to ensure we have jobs, can pay our mortgages, feed our kids?"
Unfortunately for Damo and for many others…there is no such plan…most companies are either unaware of the very real, near term impacts as the cost of technology exponentially decreases and its capability vastly improves, OR, they are not investing to take advantage of these technologies by augmenting human capability.
This is where things get interesting…rather than wait for the slow road to his demise…Damo took action. Identifying that there are a few core skills and career paths that are out of the oncoming tsunami, he quit said lucrative job and began to retrain himself in a field that will ensure that not only he's free from this risk of 'techno-displacement' but that he's helping to create the next generation of Australians with Future-proofed job skills. He plans to start his own business educating the youth of Australia in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths). These fields that prepare young people with problem solving, creativity, computational thinking and teamwork skills - skills that the Foundation for Young Australians believe are critical to compete on a global scale.
I don't know if I'd have the guts to take action like Damo has but I do know that we all need to start acting with a bit more urgency as we create policy, invest in our own skills development and invest in a new educational model to prepare our young people for what is an uncertain future...if we settle for business as usual.
At the Navegar Institute we're teaming with Industry & Higher Education on a research agenda to prepare, protect and advance the social & public welfare of Australia in the face of this unprecedented technological transformation.
What's your company doing to either head off this threat or take advantage of these new technologies to enhance capability?
What are you doing to prepare yourself for this future?