Digital economy job losses require changes now

unemploymentIn separate news articles today the dramatic loss of thousands of Australian jobs due to technological transformation was foreshadowed.

Bank branches will be hit by the take-up of mobile banking: “Using the latest numbers from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority at June 2014 there were 5483 bank branches in Australia. The closure of 11 per cent would amount to 603 branches. And thousands of jobs with the Federal Government are under threat: “…the Commonwealth and states will have to find new jobs for 2500 of their workers, or make them redundant, each year as increased digitisation transforms the way governments conduct their business.”

You’d have to be mad, literally insane, to think that the digital transformation of our economy will not impact on the nature of work over the coming decades. if you thought there was any prospect of a job in 2040 as “call centre workers and managers, inspectors and regulatory officers, mail sorters, enquiry clerks, switchboard operators and filing and registry clerks” you’d be dreaming. But that’s not where this sort of reporting takes on a dream-like quality.

Why on earth is there any surprise in this? A look at the last 5-10 years would have the writing firmly embedded in the wall. The way we do things is changing and changing increasingly rapidly. The only real question is what are we doing about it? And the answer to that question is ‘depressingly little’. As jobs change and increasing numbers of interactions become dependent upon technology, the real issue isn’t the inevitable loss of process jobs that most people don’t aspire to anyway; the issue is whether we will have a workforce capable of taking on roles in the new economy.

We need to start training that workforce today. And training that workforce means one thing: learn to code. That doesn’t mean that every single person will become a coder. It does mean that every single person should have some understanding of how technology works and some means of communicating with those who create it. They need to know enough to understand that this is not magic.

This needs to happen now. Wait another decade and by the time it matters it will already be too late. In another 10-20 years we’ll be so far behind that we wont be in a position to create a workforce that is competitive in any meaningful fashion. Our leaders’ rhetoric about education needs to shift into bi-partisan agreement and material changes immediately. This isn’t an issue that will fix itself. It’s not going to go away, and it’s not going to end well unless our government grasps the nettle now and changes the way our education system is funded and works.

There is some horrible irony in the fact that the one element which might make this digital transformation come to a grinding halt, climate-change-led disaster, is the other area that our leaders seem depressingly willing to pretend is not happening.

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