Has the lucky country actually run out of luck?
We may be known as the lucky country, but many in Australia who are battling the loss of employment due to technological advancement no longer feel that way. But Australians can still be lucky, we just have to work harder to make our own luck.
The erosion of trust starts with poor human behaviour, but it’s amplified by misuse and misunderstanding of technology.
Australia is suffering a trust deficit thanks to failures, across the board, of its institutions.
One by one, we’ve seen the shine chipped off governments, businesses, the media, trade unions, churches, schools, universities and hospitals. Even sport, our beloved national retreat from reality, has lost its allure.
Parts of the life we value are losing their promise: our school students are not progressing at the same rate as students in other competitive nations; we say we love the bush but we don’t want to live there; we are more attracted to reality television than any of the cultural output of an innovative creative community; and our hopes for a comfortable retirement are tangled in debates about tax, imputation and regulation that keeps changing around us.
And our belief in the sanctity of hard work is being undermined by the declining prospects for work itself.
Because here’s the reality for Australia entering the third decade of its third century: technology is moving up the food chain of the workforce, not just replacing blue-collar work but moving in on the brain-based occupations we thought safe from disruption.
Accountants, lawyers, journalists, engineers, draftsmen - anyone who relies on precedents to process masses of data - are in the sights of artificial intelligence which can more accurately and cheaply do the jobs that have been at the heart of professional Australia.
At best, 20 per cent of jobs will be lost to technology over the next 15 years. The number could be as high as 30 per cent. I think it’s possible to combat this if we make a concerted national effort to upskill the vulnerable, develop the industries that will create new jobs and constructively complement humans and technology.
But the missing part of this equation is concerted national effort.
Australians are grumpy - and with good reason, as I have outlined in my recent book, Has The Luck Run Out?, which chronicles the reasons for our discontent and explores some approaches that are working in areas where we are failing.
Mainly, the best approach is to learn from our mistakes so we can stop repeating them.
But there are also lessons to be learned from the actions of individuals - people like Anna Robson and Nirary Dacho who have combined their skills to create a recruitment agency focussed on marrying the talents of refugees with the needs of employers.
Or Southern Cross University’s Peter Harrison who is collecting larvae from the Great Barrier Reef, cultivating it then replanting it when ready to better withstand tougher climate conditions. Recruitment and HR professionals have a role if we are to avoid the coming jobs wipeout. It is to recognise the value of finding ways to augment technology and human skills and encourage the development of career paths that don’t just throw seemingly superseded workers overboard.
Jobs have always changed. The trick is in how society helps support those most afflicted by change.
Industry schemes in the 1980s and ’90s helped workers move from the textile and steel industries to new employment. And sometimes the market takes care of it.
One phenomenon in all our cities is the growth of coffee culture. One of the vehicles you see more often is the coffee machine repairer, an occupation that barely existed 15 years ago.
I asked one recently how he entered this line of work. He used to be a sparky, but found repairing machines better than crawling around ceilings. Workplace evolution.
Other jobs we can’t envisage will emerge from tech-induced social change. Whole professions will spring up around managing the data thrown up from a more computerised society; technology will pick up problems we never knew we had to solve and the solution will sit with human behaviour.
And then there are the laws, the banking, the communication and the human interaction that will be needed to support all that.
Getting this right is Australia’s passage to keeping its luck. It will draw on our reserves of creativity, pragmatism and trust - which are depleted and not exhausted. Has the luck run out? Not yet. But we’ve got to watch it. All of us.
David Fagan is the author of Has The Luck Run Out? (Hachette, 2019), an adjunct professor of business at QUT, a former editor-in-chief of The Courier-Mail and a consultant on change, reputation and trust. He is highly in demand as a professional speaker.