Seven years ago, you could have been forgiven for thinking that every second person you knew would be unemployed in just over a decade. Headlines at the time were sensational and alarmist after Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne estimated that 47% of American jobs were at high risk of automation.

While we agree that the rise of automation and intelligent technologies such as robots, AI, and machine learning are radically reshaping work across the globe, hype continues to cloud the discussion.

Alarmists continue to say that half of all jobs will disappear; technologists can’t wait for the robots to arrive; policy makers are nervous; and business leaders see opportunity everywhere. The reality? Automation will create real change in how we get things done. Business and government leaders at all levels must plan for the transformation of human work.

But the changes will come in waves, and uncertainty remains. This uncertainty leaves many leaders in a difficult position: Act too slow, and risk falling behind; act too quickly, and generate unnecessary complexity and confusion.

After the publication of Frey and Osborne’s original assessment, subsequent studies and policy papers sought to address the risk of automation for jobs in other countries, including Australia. In 2015, the Australian government’s Office of the Chief Economist published a paper exploring which workers are most at risk of being displaced by automation locally. In 2018, the Regional Australia Institute published an analysis of job vulnerability in the nation’s rural heartland.

Unfortunately, these studies, and many like them, only considered job losses and don’t specify a time frame. To address this oversight, Forrester has calculated actual job losses, job gains, and job transformations over time from automation since 2015 for the US market.

Today, I am pleased to present the expansion of this persona-based model to the Australian market with the release of the report, “Future Jobs: Australia’s Automation Dividends And Deficits, 2020 To 2030.”

Our findings? The Australian job market will shrink by 11%, or 1.5 million workers over the next decade. But as some jobs are lost, others will be created (1.7 million by 2030), and many more will transform into the gig economy. Workers unable or unwilling to accept the transition will depart the traditional workforce entirely. Accompanying these digital outcasts will be a wave of mission-based evacuees seeking a more values-aligned work life, taking advantage of Australia’s world-leading policy settings for social entrepreneurship. According to our forecasts:

  • Knowledge diversity will keep 27% of workers safe. Australia’s 1.2 million cross-domain knowledge workers will be safe due to the diverse skills their jobs require, such as identifying context and processing highly variable inputs. Also, the need for superior human physical communication abilities and empathy will protect many human-touch workers.
  • Demand for technical skills will boost the ranks of digital elites by 33%. A shortage of skills to build new digital solutions will fuel massive growth in the digital elite cohort. Demand for tech specialists with skills in big data, process automation, human/machine interaction, robotics engineering, blockchain, and machine learning will offset the 8% of more traditional technology roles that can be fully automated by 2030.
  • Six percent of Australians will seek to align personal values and lifestyles with work. Mission-based workers for charities, social enterprises, and health and well-being services will become a significant new labor force, boasting more than 700,000 mission-based workers by 2030.

Just as the first Industrial Revolution saw people streaming from the bush to the city, the impact of intelligent automation on the “where, who, and how” work is done within companies will be felt for centuries to come. At such a critical juncture, leaders of all types and backgrounds, including government policy makers, must collaborate to address the positive and negative impacts of automation on Australia’s labor market. Now is the time for Australia to plan for the very different workforce that will exist in 2030.

For more insights, join my colleague Seles Sabastin and I in an upcoming webinar on March 30, where we will discuss in detail the findings of this report and what policy makers and employers need to do to help their workforce cope with changes brought about by the adoption of automation technology.