Technology, inequality and the future of work

Image courtesy of Square Up, Australia.

 

Reflections on The University of Melbourne Lecture Series 

Recently, I attended a discussion about the future impacts of technological innovation on Australia’s workforce and economic and social equality, at The University of Melbourne. Tim Dunlop (Futurist) and Tim Lyons (former ACTU Assistant Secretary) debated the likelihood of new technologies widening, or perhaps redefining, the gap between richer and poorer Australians by changing the way we work in the future. In particular, Tim Dunlop’s perspective resonated with me, as I share below.

 

The Good:

Dunlop painted a new kind of future in which institutions are self-governing, brave and interested in wealth redistribution, rather than principally driven by profit maximisation for shareholders. Dunlop says that technology can be the enabler for this future if we embrace its power and actively use it to drive equity.

 

The Bad:

Despite our general reluctance to look at alternative options of workforce and working in favour of traditional forms of work, work patterns and hours, change is arriving fast. Our future will be one where machine learning, robotics and automation will radically change the way we work.

Looking at the current labour market, it is easy to understand predictions that much of “Working Australia” operating in unstructured environments and with flexible hours will be the first to face automation. According to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), approximately 36 per cent of Australian jobs face a significant or high risk of automation, and it is expected for young people without tertiary education will be most affected, given their higher rates of under-employed, non-employed or low pay. In short: more young people struggling to get work.

 

The Ugly:

Dunlop expects higher paying knowledge roles and lower paid essential caring and healing jobs to remain mostly unchanged.  Rather, he asks what jobs will be created and who will and won’t have access to them?  His prediction is that “Working Australia” will be most impacted by technology and automation, carving out a deeper hole in equality and opportunity. He says that for generations we have rewarded the stewards of extraction far more that the stewards of renewal, and without a significant refocus we are set to continue driving a greater wedge between the “haves “and “have nots”.

 

The Way Forward:

To counter this, Dunlop paints a vision for economic and social equality, that values participation and contribution to society, rather than just labour, which can be enabled by technology. Rather than leaving wealth distribution to the invisible hand and being fearful of the impending change, he says we need to lean into technology. Technology can allow workers to improve their productivity, but instead of lining the pockets of our shareholders with the margin earned from these efficiencies, use the reclaimed working hours to innovate, and create social solutions (or, solve social problems) and increase quality of life.

We’ve seen this already through the likes of Hire Up providing more choice to customers, OurSay allowing people to participate in local decision-making, or Square Up enabling electronic payment for any business.

Dunlop argues that we are on the verge of a technological shift large enough to impact us as much as climate change.  We need to decide what future we want rather than let history dictate our future.

Of course, this approach requires us to reimagine the way we value our work and a fundamental shift in prospering Australia’s rich (10% of Australians hold 49% of the wealth), which will in no way be an easy task.

These technologies have the potential to disrupt the very fabric upon which we have built our way of working. And these technologies will, on the whole, increase productivity and drive a surplus. So, if technology and therefore productivity is coming, how will you innovate, create or solve with the surplus?

Spread the love

Creating Decent Work for Women Exiting the Justice System

Approximately 4,500 women exit the criminal justice system across Australia each year. How can create decent work for these women and drastically reduce recidivism? We’re exploring five pathways forward for women’s economic equality.

Is social entrepreneurship a good bedfellow for systems innovation?

How can social entrepreneurship serve systems innovation to address global challenges, and how can entrepreneurship catalyse transformative change within complex systems?

Ten years, a new chapter: Pioneering a new economy worthy of the human spirit

After ten years of learning and unlearning in economic development, our new strategy is a roadmap to an economy worthy of the human spirit.

Women’s economic equality: Breaking barriers, creating opportunities

To dismantle the barriers holding women back from economic participation, we must challenge existing paradigms, embrace innovation, and create opportunities designed for and by women. We're committed to making women's economic equality a reality, and we invite you to...

Inner Development key to achieve sustainable business growth: Our InsideOut Model

By Anna Moegerlein, Deputy CEO   In the realm of economic development, a critical realization has emerged—the need for a holistic approach that integrates Inner Development with Enterprise Development. We’ve spent years testing and refining our approach to...

Building Resilient Food Systems: Future Healthy Food Hubs

In 2022 we began a project in partnership with VicHealth and STREAT to provide business support to seven regional food hubs across Victoria. Running until 2024, the program aims to ensure the long-term financial viability and sustainability of the food hubs, thereby...

Collaborative Strategy Development for Sustainable NFPs: 5 Minutes with Brigid Canny, YLab

Learn how YLab collaborated with TDi to develop its new strategic plan, gaining clarity and confidence in its business model. Brigid Canny, Executive Director of YLab, highlights TDi’s flexible approach, coaching, and relationship-building in this 5-minute interview, providing insight into how TDi helps NFPs achieve their mission.

International Development: 3 Solutions for a New Approach to Capacity Building

TDi associate Kate Wilson examines the flaws in traditional international development strategies, and offers a new approach to capacity building with three powerful solutions.

International Women’s Day 2023: Driving Economic Empowerment for PNG Women through Digital Accessibility and Innovation

Learn how a comprehensive Inner Development coaching program with digital accessibility helped overcome unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in PNG and drive economic empowerment, especially during the pandemic.

Acknowledging Country: A new way to connect mindfully with an important practice

We recently engaged YARN Australia for a series of team workshops on storytelling, focussed on creating relationships and intentional connections between First Nations Australians and settlers. We invite you into our world as we share a practice from these workshops, and gratefully acknowledge the land we call home.