Automation will displace one in five Australian workers in the next 15 years, according to research from a leading ICT group which argues significantly more re-skilling and investment is needed to save jobs and grow the economy.

The Australian Computer Society commissioned Faethm, a local AI firm, to apply it deep learning models to census data and make predictions about the makeup of Australia’s workforce over the next decade and a half as the fourth industrial revolution hits.

The research found technology will augment the roles of 4.5 million workers, leading to a 15 per cent increase in capacity for businesses. But automation will displace a further 2.7 million Australian workers – 21 per cent of the workforce.

The impact will vary by industry and males are more likely to be displaced by automation, according to the report, The Technology Impacts on the Australian Workforce.

Source: ACS/The Technology Impacts on the Australian Workforce.

By 2034 there will actually be a labour shortage in Australia, the research claims, because growth will outstrip supply in certain areas. But filling those roles will require significant reskilling of the current workforce and 400,000 people could “face structural unemployment as they are unable to adapt to changing job requirements”.

Hardest hit

The report breaks down individual Australian industries and roles within them, finding certain jobs are much more prone to augmentation and automation.

Within the accommodation and food services industry, for example, 45 per cent of kitchen hand jobs will be automated by 2034 but less than one per cent of chef jobs will be.

Workers in high automation risk roles like kitchen hand, receptionist and truck driver will need significant re-skilling, according to the report.

ACS CEO Andrew Johnson writes in the report that there are “clear barriers that need to be addressed” to transition Australia’s workforce.

“In work undertaken with Deloitte Access Economics there is a forecast shortfall of 100,000 tech workers in Australia over the next five years just to keep pace with current demand. Those available skills would need to be doubled to 200,000 to be on par world leading digital economies such as the United Kingdom.

“This is compounded by Australia’s under-investment in artificial intelligence relative to other nations.”

According to Johnson, comparable countries have invested billions of dollars into AI programs while Australia has a “relatively modest” investment of $60 million.

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