Automation and artificial intelligence are transforming the jobscape. KRISINDA MERHI and PHILLIPPA CLARK investigate.
A largescale technological disruption is happening across the world and workers are now facing redundancies at the hands of the technology humans have embraced.
It's disruption on a scale not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Examples include social media managers being replaced by sophisticated algorithms and mining workers being ousted by automated processes.
According to the Future workforce trends in NSW: Emerging technologies and their potential impact report (2016), an average of 51.58 per cent of all NSW jobs are at risk of computerisation.
This data follows the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) major research report in 2015, Australia's future workforce?, which stated that more than five million people could be replaced by automation within the next 10 to 20 years.
The dramatic findings are not limited to any one industry, as workers in all fields are set to experience some shift. However, employees in more hands-on jobs will feel the brunt of the blow (and have been for some time).
Factory workers are among those who are being forced to retrain and acquire new skills.
PAX Australia worker Jonathan Escarte said packing boxes was done by hand, and now it was all done by one robot: where the product goes through and it automatically caps them. Another new robot that was brought in, has the role of packing the product into its box and also gluing the boxes together and then packing the box onto a pallet.”
“We all felt a bit stressed and just full of questions wondering how all these new machines will affect us and would we still be needed to continue to work? Where would we go? We were always trying to seek answers from higher authorities who had more knowledge of what was going to happen,” Mr Escarte said.
What is my degree worth if everything I can contribute is automated?
Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Attila Brungs, said adpating to radical change started with thinking ahead.
“Always as a society it’s important to be forward thinking– that’s how societies progress, and change and improve,” he said.
“When you look at some of the worst parts of social upheaval or the unintended consequences of technological revolution or changes, it’s been due to poor planning, unanticipated outcomes and people not thinking ahead… Whenever a society starts looking backwards or starts becoming insular or starts closing down, that’s when you have a problem.”
This forward-thinking is something which Brungs has applied within his own career. To him, being Vice Chancellor of one of Australia’s leading universities in innovation and technology comes with accountability.
“I’m trying to do three things for my students now. The first is give them the skills they need for the current structure," Brungs said.
“Two, and more importantly, give them the skills and attributes they need to make sure they are resilient, flexible, adaptable so as their job changes they will be successful.
“And, thirdly, a lot of what I’m trying to do is ‘how do we create the new exciting jobs for our graduates to go into?' Which is a little bit different to the old responsibility of a university.”
Current students stand at the helm of massive technological change and it is young workers that find themselves in the most precarious position.
The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) report on The New Work Order estimates that up to 70 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are set to enter occupations that are likely to be overthrown by robots.
University of Sydney student, André Grech said the outlook was a cause for concern.
"What is my degree worth if everything I can contribute is automated?”
Currently studying a combined Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degree, Grech has his sights set on pursuing a career in medicine.
“Currently, robots are being used just for delicate surgeries–I would not say they replace the human element. At least at this stage, technology can’t replace doctors entirely. But, with artificial intelligence that can be objective and respond to human emotion, I think it’s possible.”