When we talk about innovation and advances in technology, we inevitably talk about disruption, especially in terms of the impact on existing jobs.
This is a particularly important conversation in the City of Logan, where we are constantly striving to create more local jobs for local people and we want to make it possible for current and future generations – including those facing barriers to employment – to access emerging economic opportunities.
Jim Chalmers MP, Federal Finance Spokesperson and Federal Member for Rankin (an electorate taking in a number of Logan suburbs), has co-written a book with former NBN chief executive Mike Quigley that considers this very topic: Changing Jobs: The fair in the new machine age (Black Inc Books 2017).
They believe that bursts in technology need not result in bursts of inequality; that we can combine technological change with a fair go. But first we need to understand what’s happening, and what’s likely to happen.
In the book, the authors point out that experts surveyed are split as to what automation will mean for future jobs. Close to half see net job destruction, worsening income inequality and big pools of unemployed people. The rest believe people will be displaced from some jobs, but human ingenuity will produce new jobs and new industries.
So what does it mean in Logan, where we have a very strong manufacturing and logistics economy in which levels of automation are increasing?
“Working people in communities like Logan right across the country have real fears about where, or whether, they fit in a world increasingly dominated by machines,” Mr Chalmers said.
“I’ve spoken to many locals who are not only concerned for themselves, but also for their loved ones, and about what jobs there will be in the future for the next generation and the one after that.
“If communities like Logan are to thrive in the new machine age, they not only have to consider the possible consequences of technological change for local jobs and livelihoods, but also embrace the immense potential benefits as well.
“Technological change has the potential to combat, if not overcome, many of the challenges our local community faces, including inequality and the need to support our most vulnerable.”
In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald last year, the authors outlined “20 ideas for schools and politicians in the new machine age”, which included training and mentoring more STEM teachers, compulsory coding and robotics in secondary schools, needs-based funding in schools to combat technical inequality, and earlier education and intervention, especially in poorer communities.
Mr Chalmers also stressed the importance of programs like the Girls Excelling in Maths and Science (GEMS) program at Mabel Park State High School, which is helping redress the balance between boys and girls studying advanced mathematics (currently almost twice as many boys as girls are pursuing these studies).
The optimistic view then is, yes, there will be economic benefits in our changing jobs landscape but they won’t flow to everyone unless they are harnessed. It’s up to all of us here in Logan to help make that happen for our local community.