Australians are becoming increasingly worried about the effect of automation on their jobs, with 18% of the population suspecting their job role will no longer exist in 10 years.

If this is you, it might be time to upskill.

Late last year, the Senate created a Select Committee on the 'Future of Work and Workers' to inquire into the impact technology will have on the Australian job market.

Jobs website Seek was amongst the organisations that entered submissions, revealing the concerns it had for Australia’s future workforce as digital transformation continues.

“For high cost, developed labour markets like Australia, the digital economy and automation is a negative from a jobs perspective if we continue the same path,” Seek's submission read.

“While new jobs will be created for those building the automation tools, the big question is whether they will be established at the same rate and available to the same people who are impacted? In Seek’s expert view, this is unlikely.”

Drawing on its own research, Seek revealed that 47% of Australian workers planned to remain relevant through on-job training, while 30% intended to further their formal education.

Seek spoke of Australia’s ‘War for Talent’ – the lack of highly skilled workers required to enable digital transformation, and called on organisations to step up.

“Businesses will require ongoing investment in workers to understand and adopt technologies to support growth and opportunities,” it said.

“There will be many businesses who have large cohorts of staff with skill sets that may not be required in the future.

“Government and businesses alike must give serious thought and contemplation to ensuring these workers can transition into future roles.

“If we do not prepare our workforce of today and the future for the realities of a digital age, we face a dire situation of a population of undesirable workers.”

Government spending on the VET sector has plummeted since 2012. Source: Skills Impact

Creating a better skilled workforce

Seek believes that improvements to online education could provide the platform to help Australians upskill.

“While traditional bricks-and-mortar models of university education are well-suited to undergraduates straight out of secondary education, they can be impractical for workers looking to upskill or reskill,” Seek said.

It recently partnered with Swinburne University and Western Sydney University to deliver online courses to 10,000 Australians.

These programs allow people already in the workforce to continue their studies, Seek explained, helping them boost their credentials in their existing role or begin a career change.

Swinburne also submitted a response to the inquiry, detailing the importance of upskilling.

It cited its online platform as a form of ‘blended’ learning, where students can tailor their learning needs to their personal circumstances.

It spoke of both the UK and German models of higher education, which focus on embedding employability into the tertiary sector, and implored the Australian government to follow suit and diversify its tertiary sector.

Internships and placements are central to this, according to Swinburne, with its aspiration to provide every student with such workplace learning.

However, it explained that these programs are increasingly under threat due to “unwillingness of employers” and automation being used perform the routine jobs often left for interns.

Changing the system

The National Skills Service Organisation, Skills Impact, called on the government to increase investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET) to ensure the future workforce has the needed skills to navigate automation.

Since 2012, government expenditure on the VET sector has dropped from $7 billion to $5.7 billion, while investment in school education and higher education has increased.

“This decline in investment is putting at risk the ability for Australia’s workforce to support industries that are becoming more dependent upon automation technologies,” Skills Impact said.

“Industry will migrate to countries able to support automation and the economic growth that follows.”

It also recommended that the government begin developing transitional VET programs for workers that are displaced by automation in the future.

“Addressing transitional issues on an ongoing basis will be far more cost effective than the potential for long-term unemployment that often results from a lack of imbedded transitional support.”