Man v machine: Half of NSW jobs at risk of computerisation
Aircraft engineering jobs are among those expected to become more affected by automation. Photo: Jessica Shapiro
Machines may soon outperform humans in more than half of all NSW jobs, with admin workers, technicians and labourers in Sydney’s west most likely to face upheaval at the hands of emerging technologies.
Two-fifths of NSW jobs are at high risk of being lost to computerisation and low- to middle-skilled workers across the state are expected to bear the brunt of pain brought by artificial intelligence, cloud computing, the Internet of Things and big data, according to a NSW government briefing paper released in December.
The Future workforce trends in NSW: Emerging technologies and their potential impact report hones in on a sweep of electorates in Sydney’s west as being most vulnerable to computerisation, with Auburn, Lakemba, Bankstown, Fairfield, Cabramatta, Liverpool, Macquarie Fields, Campbelltown, Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Londonderry set to lose thousands of jobs to automation in the next 10 to 15 years.
On average, 51.58 per cent of all NSW jobs are at risk of computerisation.
Occupations at risk of computerisation in NSW
Across the state, butchers, smallgoods makers, abattoir workers and labourers have more than a 96 per cent probability of losing their jobs as technology dramatically transforms entire occupations and industries.
Examples include paralegal work being replaced by sophisticated algorithms and law enforcement officers being ousted by cheap and convenient camera sensors.
Young workers are in a particularly precarious position, with the report citing a Foundation of Young Australians estimate that up to 70 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds enter occupations that are highly likely to be absorbed by automation.
Likely winners from technological shifts will be the wealthiest electorates in the state, including Vaucluse, Balmain, North Shore, Coogee and Newtown, where a majority of workers are professionals and managers, occupations that are less easily automated. Chiropractors, occupational therapists, hotel managers and school teachers are among the safest jobs, with a less than 4 per cent probability of being lost to technology.
The dramatic findings suggest a future in which knowledge workers, including engineers and scientists, will drive innovation in Sydney’s economy, leaving workers with routine and semi-routine tasks in the cold should they not retrain and acquire new skills. Adaptation will be critical to dampen the potential havoc wreaked by wide-scale job losses and skills shortages.
Despite the paper’s bleak prognosis, experts claim the shift will have long-term positive effects that outweigh negative consequences of changes.
“New technologies bring many positive developments to society, including economic prosperity, new types of work, and an increasingly educated (and potentially happier) workforce,” writes author Chris Angus.
Federal government commitments to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, initiatives for startups and programs to help unemployed people gain new skills for jobs in those areas and industries most vulnerable to job losses are singled out as ways to deal with workforce disruption.
While Mr Angus warns that the figures should not be over-analysed, the conclusions beg the question as to how a knowledge-intensive hub pegged for Glebe Island in the Bays Precinct near central Sydney will benefit those most disrupted by technology further west.
Wayne Fallon of Western Sydney University’s School of Business researches business trends in the region. He said the findings are only the “tip of an iceberg” with shortfalls in the capacity many small businesses have to react to digitisation.
The state has gone some way in planning for the shift, including the 2012 NSW Digital Economy Industry Action Plan, 2014’s Plan for Growing Sydney, the newly announced Bays Precinct Transformation Plan and the establishment of a $25 million Jobs of Tomorrow Scholarship Fund in the NSW government’s 2015-16 budget.
Pat Fensham, leader for Urban Planning, Policy and Governance at SGS Economics and Planning said that the outsourcing of service jobs higher up the value chain, such as low-level architecture jobs, means that traditionally high-skilled industries will not wholly escape the shift, either.
And while the report echoes a widely held belief that computerisation will lead to job scarcity, he added that such concerns are not new.
“It partly ignores the fact that we could have almost said the same thing 10 to 15 years ago. There have been a whole load of new jobs created that we couldn’t imagine then.”
Acting minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres did not respond to requests for comment.