It was little over a century ago that one in three Australian workers were employed in primary industries. By 2015, 70 per cent of the Australian economy was made up of service-based industries. The extension of computerisation into almost all aspects of human activity has the potential to radically reshape the workforce of tomorrow. By some estimates, almost 40 per cent of the workforce – around five million Australian jobs – face the high probability of being replaced by computers in the next 10 to 15 years.

In the past century, Australia’s economy has undergone two major transitions – first, the move from an agricultural base to one dominated by the manufacturing sector and second, the shift away from manufacturing and towards services. By 2015, 70 per cent of the Australian economy was made up of service-based industries.

In both major transitions, the role of technological advancements has played a prominent role in improving efficiency and enabling individuals to become more productive than they have ever been. Computers have decreased in price and improved in capability, thus reducing the need for brute physical labour. Accordingly, the composition of our economic activity has shifted from goods producing industries to the rise of person and knowledge-based service industries.

Today, key emerging technologies such as driverless cars, artificial intelligence, cloud services and big data are no longer a thing of the future, they are already present in our lives and workplaces. Although technological advancements have delivered real improvements in safety, reliability and efficiency, it has, and will continue to, disrupt society, sectors and livelihoods. Many sectors, particularly in service-based industries such as retail, tourism and transportation, are already experiencing digital disruption. The manufacturing and utilities sectors are also experiencing disruptive innovations such as 3D printing and fast 4G wireless communications on mobile devices and within homes.

The extension of computerisation into almost all aspects of human activity has the potential to radically reshape the workforce of tomorrow. By some estimates, almost 40 per cent of the workforce – around five million Australian jobs – face the high probability of being replaced by computers in the next 10 to 15 years, while a further 18.4 per cent of the workforce has a medium probability of having their roles eliminated. While other new jobs will be created, there are concerns about how technological change will impact less skilled labour and the lack of a safety net for workers not strictly classified as employees, such as outworkers and contractors.

Computers will not only reshape workers but also work itself. The way we work will be disrupted as technology expands competition and alters business practices. Traditional notions of the workplace may change for some types of occupation because of technological advances that allow people to work remotely. The impact it can have on organisations is considerable.

Change will remain a permanent feature of our economic environment and the pace of change will be more rapid than ever before. We need to be proactive in building our capacity to adapt to new conditions and make decisions for the long-term to not only thrive in an unpredictable and uncertain world but also to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.

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