How will automation affect Australian businesses in the future?

29th July 2015

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Striking the balance between human and capital resources has always been hard, but recent findings indicate that Australian businesses are moving towards more capital-intensive production.

As innovations in automation become more widespread, many workers may be left out of a job, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). In the Australia's Future Workforce report released last month, 39.6 per cent of jobs have a high probability of becoming automated in the next five to ten years.

Jobs identified as being particularly susceptible were those that consisted of mainly routine tasks, whether physical or mental. Industries that are already capital-intensive such as mining are also expected to see further increases in automation. 

"We needed to very quickly develop the operation to capture the upside of the market from China," he said.In Western Australia, this process is already well underway with companies investing large amounts into automation technology. As Greg Lilleyman, Rio Tinto's technology and innovation executive stated in a May interview with Mining.com, there are a variety of factors that have encouraged these ventures.

"Labour costs were quite high. All of those factors coming together in one location meant that the investment case was ripe for the picking."

Increases in productivity may actually come from more sophisticated technology.

While the loss of jobs may have negative effects on the Australian economy, productivity increases have been cited as worthwhile enough to negate this effect, especially for those in the manufacturing sector. However, these increases in productivity may actually come from more sophisticated technology and through the effective utilisation of both capital and labour. 

The CEDA report cited the importance of machine learning and robotics working alongside humans to maximise productivity. Technology that allows faster data analysis can offer gains to a number of high-skilled professions such as lawyers or doctors.  For labourers, these advancements offer a chance to up-skill and take on more sophisticated roles. 

It is important to note that the data did not include the creation of new jobs and fields in the wake of technological evolution. Phi Ruthven, chairman of IBISWorld, believed that in the long run, technological displacement will be counter-balanced with new opportunities. 

"Over the past five years, Australia created six times more jobs than it lost, and is well-placed to do the same over the next five years," he wrote in a July 27 Australian Business Review article.

Companies must be aware of how to manage these two aspects of production in the face of technological change. Business management software may help you utilise current staff and resources to best deal with disruption and embrace change.