How great a risk to rural jobs is the rise of machines?​

How great a risk is the rise of machines to rural jobs?


National Issues
Central Queensland-based agricultural technology pioneer, SwarmFarm Robotics, is preparing to start commercial production of its “SwarmBot” mini driverless tractors.

Central Queensland-based agricultural technology pioneer, SwarmFarm Robotics, is preparing to start commercial production of its “SwarmBot” mini driverless tractors.

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Automation risks overstated but smart strategies needed all the same

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Job automation is fast becoming a reality across the economy of developed nations, and rural Australia is no exception. But job loss forecasts may not be as dire as previously predicted.

That’s according to the Job Vulnerability in Australia report, released today by the Regional Australia Institute.

“Our latest research shows that 22pc of jobs nationally are highly vulnerable to automation, which is considerably less than previous forecasts of 44pc,” RAI chief executive Jack Archer said.

Automation can include everything from new software to replace administrative staff, bookkeepers and retail assistants to robotic machines like drones and tractors and so on to replace manual labour, farm workers, agronomists and so on.

A 2016 report Tomorrow's Digitally Enabled Workforce, commissioned by the federal government and prepared by CSIRO and the Australian Computer Society forecast an impending “period of rapid transition”.

“It is estimated that 44 per cent of jobs in Australia are potentially at high risk of computerisation and automation. Many new jobs will also be created by technology,” the CSIRO-led report said.

But RAI’s analysis found that, on average, there are less highly vulnerable jobs in rural areas.

Below is RAI’s Job Vulnerability tool, which enables you to search via local government areas.

However, rural economies will find it harder to adapt to mechanisation compared to larger regional centres and metropolitan areas.

Mr Archer said for rural areas to adapt to an automated workforce, new, localised education and training, as well as responsive government policy, are needed.

“What this information emphasises is that as the workforce structure changes in regional Australia, communities need to be looking at how they will build local skills and new businesses that align to the job demands of the future,” Mr Archer said.

“Centralised policy responses by government are unlikely to deal with the unique challenges each community will face,” Jack Archer concluded.

Rural regions

RAI found 22.6pc of jobs in rural regions are highly vulnerable to automation.

However, RAI found technology disruption risks to rural areas are primarily lack of telecommunications infrastructure, which would inhibit the speed of adaptation to new business and employment opportunities.

Rural regions have 48.4pc of jobs with moderate vulnerability, which is twice the proportion of jobs compared with metropolitan areas.

That’s also significantly greater than the Australian average of 31.3pc of jobs moderately vulnerable to automation.

Rural regions are defined by RAI as smaller regional areas that are not close to large population centres.

Regional cities

Up to 28.1pc of jobs in regional cities are considered highly vulnerable to automation, higher than the overall risk across Australia of 26.5pc.

RAI said regional cities have diverse economies that provide support services to metro areas, meaning there’s a large proportion of people working in clerical and administrative jobs, technical and trade jobs, as well as jobs in factory processing - “all of which are highly susceptible to automation”.

However, regional cities score high on RAI’s innovation index, with good numbers of start-up businesses and new trademarks.

“As such, while regional cities have a large proportion of jobs highly vulnerable to automation, they are also positioned to be able to adapt to the changing nature of work and create new job opportunities,” RAI said.

Metro areas

Up to 26.5pc of jobs in metropolitan areas are considered highly vulnerable to automation.

They also have 47pc of jobs that are of low vulnerability, due to the fact that they have the highest concentration of workers who are the least susceptible to automation - in medical, legal, and education professionals, as well as managers, and community and healthcare workers.

Metropolitan Areas have about 26.5pc of jobs which are moderately vulnerable jobs, the least compared to regional economies, which RAI said “further emphasises the relatively low overall vulnerability of metropolitan areas to the impacts of automation”.

RAI has produced a Regional Job Automation Pack that includes a new Job Vulnerability data tool.

It also includes an occupations list that ranks professions from least to most vulnerable, and the Job Vulnerability in Australia research paper, identifying risks and potential solutions.

Visit: Regional Australia Institute job automation pack for more information

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