Australia’s future workforce?

By Robert Hickson 29/06/2015


Australia’s Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) has released a door-stopper of a report called Australia’s future workforce?

It explores a range of themes and issues associated with changing workforces, with chapters from academics (largely), industry representatives, and policy people. CEDA is a respected non-profit organisation for economic and social issues; the equivalent of the Conference Board of Canada. The report considers global and national trends in relation to the Australian labour market.

The chapter on “The impact of computerization and automation on future employment” applies Frey & Osborne’s approach to modelling the affects of automation on the workforce (see my previous post on that), and concludes that 40% of Australia’s current jobs have a “high probability” of being automated in the next 10 to 15 years (compared with 50% in the US). These are largely manual, administrative and sales jobs.

They then attempt to model that at regional levels. Not surprisingly many mining-related jobs seem highly likely to become automated. But they also look at jobs in local government. Time will tell whether they are right or wrong in their models and predictions, but it is a useful exercise in taking the abstract to the more particular to raise awareness of emerging issues.

What about New Zealand’s future workforce? There hasn’t been much sophisticated analysis here yet. Such an approach as CEDA’s report would be useful for New Zealand as well.

It’s not just the type of jobs that people should be looking at. Another recent report from the international consultancy firm Arup, called Rethinking the factory, is one of a range of similar reports noting that new technologies are not just replacing or changing the human workforce in the manufacturing sector, but are changing how factories are being constructed an operated.

The lithium battery manufacturer 24M is being heralded as an example of this, where the effort is going into improving manufacturing processes, not just the products. So are others such as AtFAB, which sends customers the files for its designs, who can then make them themselves or go to a local maker shop. So far AtFAB only makes furniture out of plywood, so there’s a way to go before more high-end products can be made in this way for larger segments of the population.

In New Zealand (as elsewhere), there’s hope for start-ups to diversify the manufacturing sector. However, it is usually a long hard (and often unsuccessful) road from start-up to major global exporter. New Zealand already has a relatively strong manufacturing sector, although a big chunk of this is made up of food companies (where profit margins are low).

Such apparently mundane items as bearings are getting the sexy smart make-over. Manufacturers are blurring the boundary between product suppliers and service companies. Can more New Zealand firms succeed in this new arena?