Artificial intelligence

How we can embrace AI without causing unemployment

Artificial intelligence won’t cause mass unemployment – and how education can help.


Machinery has been replacing manual labour since the Industrial Revolution and through to the 1990s and early 2000s when the shift from manufacturing into a service economy unfolded.

The rise of automation capabilities presents yet another paradigm shift in labour practices. 

For generations, we have faced the fear that disruptive technology will render our roles as workers redundant. With the arrival of AI technology, it is no different. How do you stay relevant? You keep learning.

The Foundation for Young Australians’ “Future of Work” report projects that 70% of young Australians will get their first job in roles that will either look very different or be completely lost by automation. Furthermore, nearly 60% of our students are currently studying or training for occupations where at least two-thirds of jobs will be automated.

I can’t even imagine the kinds of jobs my daughter will be doing.  As a leader in education, these figures prompt me to think about what we can do to better position our students to successfully navigate the future of work.

A natural reaction to the introduction of technological advancements in the workplace is to fear job displacement. However, fear of rampant unemployment is misguided. Rather than seeing the advent of AI as a threat, we should embrace it and the new opportunities it will create.

To do so, we need better education and training resources to respond to the digital skills gap through reskilling and upskilling.  We need to have systems in place that will equip both seasoned executives and the leaders of tomorrow with skills that are complementary to AI.

A 2017 survey of 1500 executives revealed that only 17% of them were familiar with the concept of AI a statistic that sits uneasily for enterprises looking for a competitive position in the global market. Industry leaders, like (REA Group), recognise the present skills gap in the digital space. The group has partnered with RMIT Online to offer courses like the Digital Transformation program to respond to the global demand for hard and soft skills.

Yet, it will take time for AI to fully integrate into the fabric of today’s economy. That’s what we should be preparing for now.  

AI is an inevitable step in the evolution of business.  It presents a number of opportunities, including paving the way to improved customer experience and more accurate predictions of customer behaviour. Employees, too, can benefit from upskilling measures to meet the anticipated needs of tomorrow’s workforce.

It is estimated that by 2030, 63% of all jobs will be made up of soft skill-intensive jobs. To confidently meet the needs of businesses in the digital future, we need to teach people how to work alongside new technology like AI while also honing those uniquely human transferable skills, such as creativity, collaboration, and leadership development.

While it is difficult to predict the full extent of the disruption our workplaces will feel with AI’s arrival, we do know for certain that the future of work will require different skills — skills that machines can’t readily replace.  As employers and individuals we must recognise that while the future of work will change, we have the power to determine how it will be shaped.

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