Lower paid Australian workers are fearful that the digital economy will make their jobs redundant, but most are also unwilling to do anything to learn new skills.
These are the key findings of a survey by accounting software firm MYOB, which interviewed 500 Australian workers earning under AUD 50,000 a year.
The survey found that 28% of respondents were “totally unprepared” for the changes the digital economy would bring to the employment landscape, and only 16% felt they were prepared.
In a worrying trend, more than half of those interviewed said they were not prepared to make any financial investment in upgrading their skills while 47% said they had done nothing to prepare for the digital future.
Presenting the results at an Innovation Summit hosted by the Australian Financial Review newspaper last week, MYOB chief Tim Reed said the research showed that workers in the middle of the “value chain” were the ones who were most afraid of the future.
Reed said Australia needed to rethink its education system towards lifelong learning and called on employers to be more willing to fund employee study in return for job loyalty.
The Summit was also told that Australia was lagging other OECD economies in digital innovation and had been a late mover.
Adrian Turner, the chief executive of Australian Government funded data research and engineering organization Data61, said it was not too late for Australia to bridge the gap and said the digital economy can add another USD 240 billion to Australian GDP over the next decade.
Turner called on the Australian private sector to ramp up its investment in research and development and not be lulled into a “false sense of security.”
"This is not a government problem, it's just not," Turner said.
"Government can create the environment but if the industry doesn't step up into it, then shame on us."
Data61 is part of Australian Government science organization CSIRO, whose chief executive said private sector businesses should reinvest savings from automation and AI rather than “saving” them at the bank.
“You can’t save your way to success,” CSIRO chief Larry Marshall said.
“In my opinion, if companies aren't foresighted or keep cutting costs, shareholders will love it for a few quarters, but they're basically selling the future to buy today."
Marshall cited the example of mining giant BHP, which worked with CSIRO to develop a mining robot to work in conditions hazardous to humans, as a rare positive example.
In this case, miners were ultimately redeployed to manage the robots.
“They liberated capital, reduced risks but chose to actively reinvent that liberated capital in a better business model.”