A reality check on digital disruption
29 March 2019
By David Noble
David is an Associate Lecturer and Doctoral Researcher at SCU
While artificial intelligence brings with it some real advantages, many jobs will be affected.
Last year the OECD released their background briefing for the G7 Innovation Ministers’ meeting in Montreal at the end of March. It contained some sobering messages for those who think that their job is safe from digital advances, including Artificial Intelligence (AI). The report points out that digital disruption of jobs will be wide-ranging, and affects all economic sectors.
While artificial intelligence brings with it some real advantages, many jobs will be affected. The report lists sectors such as food and beverage, the retail sector, and the transport and manufacturing sectors as particularly vulnerable. One of the problems is that many of the new jobs created by digital technologies are different from existing jobs, meaning that employees in vulnerable job categories will need to develop new skills.
A disturbing issue mentioned in the report is that the labour market is likely to polarise. At one end of the spectrum, highly-skilled individuals with tertiary education are less vulnerable, while at the same time jobs in lower paid roles that require less education, such as caring and assisting the elderly, are relatively safe. However, at an individual level, those workers in lower paid jobs may be at risk from middle-skilled workers whose jobs have been automated, and who seek alternative employment.
The report makes it clear that governments have a role to play in preparing workers for the new technological environment. The policy environment plays a big part in helping workers to transition through stronger social safety nets, fostering the redeployment of workers across industries, and creating a regulatory environment that protects workers in the new employment environment.
There is some good news. Firstly, the very technologies that threaten the job security of many people also provide a lifeline. Digital technologies allow individuals to upskill themselves through ready access to quality educational opportunities. Universities such as my own are increasingly offering a number of 100% online study opportunities. The internet today provides access to free and low-cost information sources, and astute workers will avail themselves of the opportunity to accumulate new knowledge.
Creative skills, human dexterity, and the ability to apply knowledge to a wide variety of situations are not easily programmed into a robot. These sort of jobs are likely, according to the report, to remain in human hands for the foreseeable future at least. Research also shows that those individuals with existing high levels of literacy and numeracy are more adept at transitioning to the new world of automation and digital technology.
Future proof with lifelong learning
Finally, lifelong learning is highlighted in the report as a key component for future-proofing your employment. Workers who completed a course several years ago and have not studied since are particularly vulnerable. Technologies, methodologies and standards change. What was sufficient in the past is unlikely to be suitable in the future.
Clinging to the status quo is not an option. The report points out that workers need to begin preparing to transition to the new digital workplace now, rather than trying to ignore – or worse, reverse – the trend towards a digital future.
Online learning has made postgraduate education more possible than ever before. Enabling students to study from any device, anywhere, anytime means the barrier of having to attend on-campus classes is a thing of the past. Virtually connect with other students going through the same course as you and be able to reach out to your academics all while on your commute to work. This model means you can tap into that time that previously had gone underutilised and graduate sooner with a degree that will take your career and potentially your salary to the next level.