​4.6m Australian jobs at risk at the hands of technology: StartupAUS

A report by StartupAUS believes startup and innovation hubs are the key to combating the 4.6 million jobs at risk of obsolescence in the digital era.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australian startup advocacy group StartupAUS has recommended the country continue to invest in startup and "multi-layered" innovation hubs if it wants to sustainably attract and retain talent and combat the 4.6 million jobs that are expected to be displaced by technology.

StartupAUS' latest report [PDF], Economy in Transition - Startups, innovation and a workforce for the future suggests that fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, nurturing a workforce with a forward-looking skill set, and establishing the infrastructure to support innovation, Australia can be "well-positioned to ensure the future of work in Australia is a bright one".

Additionally, StartupAUS predicts the "solopreneur" -- a person working independently as a specialist in their particular field -- will also play an important part in combating the obsolescence of jobs.

While the report notes that Australia is expected to be slightly less affected by automation than the United States and below the OECD average due to having already transitioned from manufacturing to a largely service-based economy, StartupAUS believes that the total number of jobs at high risk is approximately 4.6 million, with a further 2.1 million at medium risk.

Alex McCauley, StartupAUS CEO, said Australia must be prepared to meet the inevitable challenges brought about by swift and sweeping technological advancement.

"The Australian workforce is not immune from the sweeping global changes brought on by both the internet and advances in technology elsewhere. Indeed, the effect of these changes on how we work, and in what roles, has increasingly become a matter of vital national economic importance," he said.

"Vast new opportunities have opened up in the digital era, and we must position ourselves to take full advantage of those opportunities."

Another necessity StartupAUS highlighted was preparing for the workforce of the future by educating the nation's youth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The report suggests that 16 of the 20 most currently in-demand skills in Australia are technology-related, and workers with a mix of entrepreneurial, STEM, creative, and social skills will be in increasingly high demand to support the core of Australia's required workforce.

Despite this need, StartupAUS said Australia has a profound talent shortage within the STEM field, suggesting combating the shortage by harnessing "specialised immigration", and noting that around 70 percent of Silicon Valley software developers are foreign-born.

"As our tech startup ecosystem develops, Australia must be open to importing talent from overseas, and at the same time accept that skilled Australians will move offshore. This is a natural part of the modern employment landscape for high-skill workers," McCauley said.

STEM has become a hot topic for the country's political and tech leaders, with Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-CEO and co-founder of Atlassian, saying previously that the biggest challenge the nation is facing is its lack of talent.

"We are 1 percent of the world's GDP today, which makes us 20th in the OECD in terms of size of economy; if we're not producing 1 percent of the world's technology in 10, 20, 30 years' time, there's no way we can maintain that position. That puts us in a bad spot," he said.

"I think fundamentally it's about talent -- that's our biggest challenge in this country. Talent, training, and STEM education in high schools is critically important."

Earlier this year, the government begun the consultation process for the Entrepreneur Visa, releasing a discussion paper to tackle concerns including: Individual nomination procedure, third-party backing, length of stay, visa extension length, and whether the individual should be given permanent residency if their innovations prove to be a success.

"It is critical for Australia's prosperity and growth that we not only tap into the best entrepreneurial minds in Australia, but we also make it easier for talent from overseas to contribute to this country's innovative future," former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said at the time.

"We are also keen to retain those educated and talented people who have come to Australia and developed their knowledge base during their time in this country."

Announced as part of the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Entrepreneur Visa would allow those from overseas to live and work amongst Australia's tech industry.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) published its major research report Australia's future workforce? last year, which, similarly to the StartupAUS report, called on Australians to ensure that the nation is technologically ready for the workforce of the future.

According to the think tank, more than 5 million jobs -- almost 40 percent of Australian jobs that exist today -- have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years, citing technological advancements as the reason.

In its report [PDF], CEDA said that while there will be new jobs and industries that emerge from the increasingly digital era, Australia will suffer if it doesn't plan for, and invest in, the right areas.

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