Over the last 15 years, Australians have reduced the amount of time spent on physical and routine tasks at work by two hours each week thanks to automation. Retail workers have spent less time ringing up items and more time helping customers, bank employees less time counting banknotes and more time giving financial advice.
And if Australia plays its cards right, we could be making $2.2 trillion from automation by 2030, according to research commissioned by Google.
Dr Andrew Charlton, Director of research firm AlphaBeta who undertook the study, says Australian policy makers and companies must take action now, and technology must be embraced to reskilling Australia’s most vulnerable workers.
The study in question, The Automation Advantage, analysed 20 billion hours of work in Australia to understand how every Australian job is being changed by automation.
“More than changing what jobs we do, automation is changing the way we do our jobs,” said Dr Charlton.
“Most of that change isn’t coming from the loss of physical and routine jobs. It comes from workers switching to different tasks within the same jobs as machines take over an increasing load of dangerous and repetitive routine work.”
Dr Charlton says the rise of machines will make human work more “human”.
Analysis of recent trends in worker satisfaction, workplace injuries and pay levels for tens of thousands of Australians confirms that machines are now shouldering our riskiest, least enjoyable and least valuable tasks within a job, reducing danger and improving work satisfaction and meaning, according to Dr Charlton.
Dr Charlton says workplace injuries will fall by 11 per cent and 62 per cent of low-skilled workers will experience improved satisfaction.
“For the most part, workers will be able to easily adjust their work routine and remain in their current jobs,” Dr Charlton says. “But for instances where automation leads to higher unemployment, the Australian economy can only realise a dividend of $1.2trillion over 15 years if we redeploy workers that are displaced by machines into new forms of work.”
If Australian companies accelerate their adoption of technology, Dr Charlton believes we could see another $1 trillion in the Australian economy over the next 15 years.
To date, 9 per cent of ASX companies are making sustained investments in automation, compared with more than 20 per cent in the US and 14 per cent in leading automation nations globally.
“It would be dire for Australia’s competitiveness if companies continued with a business as usual approach,” Dr Charlton says. “Slowing down the pace of automation, rather than accelerating it may do more harm than good, depriving Australia of the resulting productivity benefits and potentially reducing the global competitiveness of local industries.”