As AI and robotics automate more tasks, fewer humans are required to do the same amount of work. Rather than eliminating the need to work, conventional wisdom argues humans will be required to do different kinds of jobs than they do today.

The challenge for governments, business and individuals, lies in reskilling workers to adapt to wave after wave of change ushered in by technology.

To adapt, Australia will need to double its total investment in education and training from a combined 300 billion hours to 600 billion hours over the next two decades, according to a new report.

Alphabeta’s Future Skills Report, commissioned by Google, argues Australia will need not only the traditional institutions like university and TAFE, but also more on-the-job training and short, online courses.

The report studied changes in more than 300 jobs, the tasks they involved, and the skills required to do them, to answer three questions: What skills do we need to succeed in the future? When do we need to learn these skills? And how can we acquire the skills we need?

It found every Australian will change jobs 2.4 times over the next two decades on average driving a greater need for upskilling and reskilling.

To meet that demand, Australia’s education systems will need to evolve from cramming learning into the years before age 21 to enabling a more continuous process. According to the report, by 2040 Australians will acquire 41 per cent of their knowledge and skills as adults.

Alphabeta argues desirable skills will be ones which complement, rather than compete with, automation.

Another reprot released this week, this time from the World Economic Forum (WEF), argued the cost of reskilling workers should be shared between business and government, however in the US the majority of financial burden will fall on the government.

It will cost $34 billion to reskill 1.4 million US workers who may lose their jobs to automation in the coming years, according to the report.

The report also found that of the 1.4 million workers at risk, the private-sector could only profitably reskill 25 per cent, or about 350,000 workers.

“Even with a conservative estimate, the reskilling challenge will cost $34 billion in the United States alone and only a part of it will be profitable for companies to take on by themselves, even if they were to think long term,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director, WEF, and head, Centre for the New Economy and Society.

“The question of who pays for the stranded workers and for the upskilling needed across economies is becoming urgent. In our view, a combination of three investment options needs to be applied: companies working with each other to lower costs; governments and taxpayers taking on the cost as an important societal investment; and governments and business working together.”


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