Australians earning under $50,000 a year, that are single, aged 40-49 or did not complete high school are most concerned they’ll be out of a job in the new digital economy, but the majority are not doing anything to learn new skills.
A new study from MYOB, presented at The Australian Financial Review Innovation Summit, indicated that 28 per cent of respondents felt “totally unprepared” for the tech-driven changes to the workforce, while only 16 per cent of people felt completely prepared.
“[It’s] been well documented by the OECD is that the relative value of different parts of the value chain is changing. What they’ve commented on is the components at the start of the value chain and end are worth more now than they were in the past and those in the middle are worth relatively less,” Mr Reed said.
“In particular the design and research and development and marketing and services component have lifted in their share of the overall value of the value chain and the logistics and manufacturing are down.”
But overall, Mr Reed was bullish that Australia was positioned well to benefit from this shift in value in the supply chain.
“This is very good for Australia as a small, educated open economy participating in global supply chains. This enables us to focus on the areas that are high value-add, if we have the skills across our workforce to be able to do that,” he said.
The respondents in the MYOB survey rated problem solving, digital security, collaboration, digital data and digital design skills as the most critical for workplaces of the future.
These skills matched up with those identified in a study by local economics firm Alphabeta last year, which found interpersonal, creative, decision making and information synthesis abilities would be critical to the digital economy.
Despite the majority of respondents not being able, or willing, to invest in their own upskilling, Mr Reed said the fact there was alignment in the knowledge of what skills would be needed was cause for optimism.
“I’m really optimistic about the future. I’m far more concerned about the lack of artificial intelligence having the productivity drivers we need than the fear of destroying jobs.
“This data gave me more reasons to be optimistic because the skills that are the high value skills and are needed by companies are seen to be needed by the individuals in Australia. There’s no mismatch in information.
“What we’re not doing enough of is building those skills in individuals.”
Mr Reed proposed that Australia needed to rethink its education models, backing Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott’s idea for a government lifelong learning fund, an impetus in more industries for continuous learning like what occurs in medicine or accounting, as well as more employers being willing to fund employees to undertake new qualifications in exchange for loyalty.
MYOB has implemented a program in which it brings mature-aged women into the business and spends nine months training them to the level of an undergraduate in computer science, on the condition that they agree to work for the company for a set period of time afterwards. This is helping the company tackle gender equality in the tech industry, while also letting it identify new talent.
“That model where there is an implicit investment in skills and also an appreciation from the individual regarding the return on that investment, that’s something we’ll see more of.”
Despite this, over half of the 500 the respondents surveyed said they were not financially prepared to invest in updating their skills and 47 per cent admitted they were not doing anything to update their skills, not even reading leadership books or listening to webinars, let alone undertaking a course.
MYOB chief executive Tim Reed said the Australians most fearful of the shift to the digital economy were those that typically doing roles in the middle of the “value chain”.