Economics MDIA2003_18 MDIA2003_IssuesTrendFeature_18 MDIA2003Thur10.30 Media Other Rose-AnneThur10.30_2003_18 Society Technology

Technology is Overtaking Human Jobs – and You’re Next

by Cassandra Nguyen

Results of research conducted by CEDA.

Almost 40% of current jobs in Australia are at risk of being wiped out by a wave of redundancy in the next 10 to 15 years because of technological advancements, according to a report by The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). This means 5 million jobs will be replaced by technology – not just the typically assumed blue-collar jobs, but even those which are unexpected such as white-collar professions that require high levels of expertise and skills.

Receiving recognition and rewards for achieving milestones after years of service in a job is often a celebrated ritual in the workplace. However, for Calvin Holcomb, a previous Bank Teller at St.George Bank, packing his belongings and leaving a job he loved because of the technological invention of the smart ATM was how he received recognition after 10 long years of dedicated service.

Today’s Smart ATMs at St.George Bank that can do everything Bank Tellers once did.

“All my skills, capabilities and learnings that I had gained within my 10 years as a Teller was simply replaced by technology that learnt to do what I could in matters of minutes,” Holcomb says.

It’s no surprise that technology is getting faster, better, and smarter. Creeping automation and advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, and big data are now transforming the way we work and live, but the impacts of these technologies are a lot closer than most people realise. Millions of Autralians are at risk of joining the unemployment queue and they aren’t even aware of it.

“I definitely did not see my job being at risk at all… I just thought that technology would help us do things better and quicker. Not to the extent that they would replace humans in jobs like mine,” Holcomb says.

Already, technology has permanently eliminated workers across many jobs in the sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, and mining. But now, it’s the crest of a digital wave flooding through even the likes of banks, financial institutions, accounting and law firms, so if you are a white-collar worker, expect nothing less than a bumpy ride.

In February 2018, NAB – one of Australia’s big 4 banks – axed approximately 1000 jobs to better embrace the productivity and saved costs gained from technology. This is part of NAB’s big growth plan, where the bank will be making 1000 positions redundant every six months to axe a planned total of 6000 jobs by the next 3 years. The plan stemmed from NAB’s full-year results released in November 2017, where

the bank had an annual net profit of $6.6 billion which made NAB the first Australian bank to see an increase in profits gained than the prior year, even after cutting 2.5 per cent of their workforce.

Eva Aziz, an NAB Branch Manager for almost 25 years, shares her input on this technological unemployment movement by NAB, where she has bid goodbyes to many employees including some of her very own close colleagues. Till today, she feels afraid that she might be next.

“It’s not just bank tellers being forced out of their jobs. I’ve seen people across all departments and levels of hierarchies go, no matter your level of skills or intelligence. All types of workers are no longer needed, and this is happening everywhere, not just banks,” Aziz affirms.

Automation, advanced softwares, and artificial intelligence are inevitably transforming the business landscape as they are learning to analyse information, make decisions, and take over complex tasks. Now, technology has become so intelligent, doing jobs that were once the exclusive preserve of humans and until recently, required well-paid knowledge workers.

Graph showing percentage of jobs likely to be lost to technology in Australian cities.

CEDA chief executive, Professor Stephen Martin, believes the world is on the cusp of yet another wave of an industrial revolution being driven by new emerging technologies, where it is no longer just low-paid, manual jobs at risk.

“What we’ve found is that going right through to dentists, and clergy and chemical engineers — and, dare I say, even editors or newspaper proprietors and, heaven forbid, even economists — all of these are in grave danger of perhaps outliving their usefulness,” Professor Martin says.

These challenges that we are facing today of extremely high likelihood of job losses across rural and regional parts of Australia are not only confined to Australia, but are facing developed economies all throughout the world. So as technology continues to infinitely grow and out-smart humans, it is becoming of crucial importance to prepare, adapt, and acknowledge the risks that every single job faces so that nobody gets left behind in a future with automation.

Recent research conducted by recruitment agency Randstad has revealed that 84 per cent of Australians surveyed were not concerned that technology or automation would affect their current or future job prospects, while 77 per cent believed that they would not need to change careers in the next 10 years. This research shows that Australians are not worried about being made redundant and edged out of their jobs due to technological advancements, when really they should be.

Leading technologist futurist, Shara Evans has commented on this research by Randstand that she is not surprised by the results as many Australians and people around the world are too naïve when it comes to the approaching impacts that technology will have on their jobs.

Some jobs that will be affected by technological automation.

No matter what job you are doing, technology is coming for you next, even when you least expect it – which is exactly what happened with Bank Teller Calvin Holcomb.

“It came as a shock to me and everyone else that technology was going to phase me out of my very own job. No one expected it,” says Holcomb.

Toby Walsh, a professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) shares his insights on job automation as a result of technology, agreeing that it is something that we should all be thinking about.

“It is clear we’re going through a period of disruption,” Professor Walsh says.

On top of the jobs of drivers, receptionists, and bankers that Professor Walsh believes will soon disappear due to technology, he also sees jobs within the “four D’s” being replaced.

“The dirty, the dull, the dangerous, and the difficult,” Walsh explains. But overall, he agrees that technology is coming for all our jobs, where anyone could be next.

“It’s just going to be faster, safer and cheaper,” Walsh adds.

The rate of technological advancements has been unprecedented for the last 2 decades or so, and the pace will only intensify in the decades to come. This means humans should wake up to the threats of mass unemployment the economy faces, as “we have to think to at least prepare for that sort of change,” Walsh says.