Regional Australia Institute investigates automation's impact on work

Downer Rail's Cardiff facility
Downer Rail's Cardiff facility

WHAT will the predicted wave of automation, computerisation and artificial intelligence mean for workers in regional Australia?

That’s the question that an independent think tank, the Regional Australia Institute, has attempted to answer in a package of research made public in recent days and available from its website.

Its detailed analysis of each local government area’s workforce combines census data with work by specialist academics using the statistical probability of individual occupations being eliminated by automation.

The result is ranking of jobs in terms of their vulnerability to automation, together with the numbers of those jobs in each local government area, to build up a picture of how much a particular region is likely to be impacted by job automation.

Overall, the institute says that between 20 per cent to 30 per cent of jobs are highly vulnerable to automation, a rate of job loss it describes as lower than some earlier predictions.

But as the institute acknowledges in its work, the computerisation and artificial intelligence that is likely to strip away many existing jobs will in turn create waves of new jobs in areas that may right now be beyond our imagination.

This is the way it has been since human progress began. While rapid changes of technology can make things hard for some workers – especially those older employees with long histories at a single job – the march of technology has also freed us from any number of tasks that few of us would want to return to were we to be given the chance. 

This perpetual improvement was on display yesterday at Downer Rail’s Cardiff maintenance centre, where train bogeys are maintained in a way that would be almost unrecognisable to the rail worker of a generation or two ago.

While the Cardiff facility does not employ the numbers of people it did when the Millenium trains were being built, Downer’s long-term maintenance contracts with the state government provide a solid base of employment for the 120 or so workers who are there now. The task for this region is to win more of this type of work, to ensure that our industrial base is maintained and even rebuilt, even if the trend is still to take manufacturing work offshore.

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