John Sheridan

John is CEO of Digital Business insights!

What the world needs now...

Automation, robotisation and computerisation are now estimated to destroy 50% of middle class (better paying) jobs over the next 20-30 years, further increasing the inequality that we see in our societies.

According to Oxfam, just 1% of the human population will soon own more than 50% of the world's wealth. And just 85 individuals now have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people. We can debate the figures but the directions and trends are clear. A squeeze from both ends.

And against this background, the carrot is provocatively dangled... "Anyone can do what the 1% have done in the land of opportunity" as though it is in some way our fault for being gutless and lacking initiative, but the reality of glass, ivy league, concrete and steel, skin colour, illness, neighbourhood, parental background, gender and "old boy" ceilings demonstrates this is patently untrue. Silver spoons reach a long way.

George Orwell was remarkably prescient when he wrote 1984. Worth reading again, if you haven't done so recently.

So what went wrong?

Governments across the world seem to be bankrupt of ideas on the future of work, jobs and wealth, prey as they are to the persistent persuasion of lobbyists, commentators and news media looking through the dark glasses of the old world.

Research shows, that we don't trust politicians and with good reason.

But politicians are improving their ratings slightly, with a 2015 Roy Morgan survey showing that nurses were trusted first out of a list of 30 professions at 92%, with politicians jumping upwards to 13%, ahead of Insurance Brokers at 11%, Real Estate Agents at 9% and Car Salesmen at 4% a position they have held for 30 years. However that is not a lot to be proud of.

Many other studies across the world show similar results.

We are not overly impressed with politicians, their self interest and short-term plans focused on winning the next election (personal service), when they should be delivering long-term plans focused on ensuring our collective future (public service).

Lack of leadership seems to be a worldwide issue.

So what went right?

The internet went right. Digital technology. Easy access to information via Google went right. Improved access to online education. The sharing of ideas.

The shift of power from vendors (politician, retailer, media owner, corporate – anybody with something to sell) to customers.

Recognising the "power of one". And then recognising the greater power of two or three or four or more = collaboration, enabled of course by the internet.

So, can "what went right?" deal with the issues of "what went wrong?"

It's not a destiny...it is a challenge.

If we leverage "what went right" intelligently, we should be able to generate a lot more high paying 21st century jobs, which might even diminish the problem of the 1%.

To do this, we individuals need to take "control of our own destiny". That is all. Not leave all the wicked problems to the politicians (see above), but get on and do something ourselves – not everything, just something. Personal responsibility.

And we know that is already happening – with increased access to information, shift of power to customer, sharing of ideas, access to online education, collaboration and so on.

We just need more sharing of options and directions, more confidence, initiative and possibly even some investment from government into new world industries and technologies.

It might be hard after a lifetime of "shut up, sit down and do what you are told."

But the world is changing.

And either, robots will be our tools or we will be theirs.

Either, politicians will be the public servants they claim to be or we will be their servants.

So decision time on so many fronts. Revolutions are always provocative. But the most immediate place to make a difference is looking into the mirror of "me" and "you". And recognising the power of one. It is called responsibility – the ability to respond.

Can we together create a future of well-paid jobs and job security?

That may seem a courageous question in the face of a "50% of jobs disappearing" prediction, but we do have time to do it.

The traditional safe professions of law, medicine, academia, government service and accounting are no longer so safe. Increasingly more and more functions in law, medicine, academia, government and accounting will be automated.

The high wage space in those sectors will shrink as a result, leaving only those roles untouched where creative, analytical, imaginative and insightful thought can be applied.

Finance and banking will be further automated. Rental and real estate will be further automated. Retail will be further automated, leaving mainly the low paid customer facing "check out" roles, where a bricks and mortar store is still relevant. And most administrative roles across all sectors are being turned into software.

Hospitality is being increasingly automated, leaving low paid, front of house, service roles. Though there is always room for more high skilled chefs.

Being good at human interaction is usually not well rewarded financially.

This applies also in aged care, child-care, education and health and emergency services, where the investment in care, attention, empathy and support does not receive its due reward in wages paid.

These job roles are all under threat, both from technology and also from how we under value these roles in our society, two different issues but the same result – low wages.

The only defendable job roles will be those where some element of creativity, agility, analytical, intuitive or innovative thinking can be displayed.

Things that robots can't do. Yet.

And these capabilities need promoting and nurturing not smothering.

Nurturing in our schools, universities, unions, in our media and in government policy and planning.

The success of the industrial revolution was generated by the systematic and consistent repetition of tasks.

Factories, government departments, schools, hospitals, armies, corporations, banks, businesses, utilities, industries, sales, marketing and call centres operating with formula processes, activities and sales messages, doing the same thing, in the same way, every day.

Today that systematic repetition is a weakness.

Robots and computer programs will do this better. They already do and there is a lot more to come.

So what can people do when machines and programs can do so many things?

We have to refine, expand and magnify our uniquely human skills. The things robots can't do. We have to foster creativity, analytical, intuitive and innovative thinking.

We have to cultivate and amplify the craft and trade skills (hands), the design and art skills (eye), and the imaginative and analytical skills (brain) that deliver customised solutions to unique problems, conditions and issues.

Hand, eye and brain skills can be augmented by automation. But the initiative and origination remains solely human.

Trade skills – electricians, carpenters and builders (hand supported by eye and brain) - can't easily be replaced by robots.

Each project they face is unique. And with the expansion of technology into construction (BIM) plus the impact on the market of solar, batteries and smart home management, all tradies will have to expand their knowledge and skills. But that means more well paid work, not less.

These are 21st century high wage jobs, generating an increasing demand for 21st century courseware in our high schools, TAFEs and universities.

Design skills - graphic design, architecture, landscape and industrial design (eye supported by hand and brain) - can't easily be replaced by robots either.

Designs skills sit right at the beginning of all manufacturing processes. Design is the translation of ideas into action. Each design is unique. And unique design solutions are high value. Creative design generates high wage jobs right the way down the line. And it all begins in schools.

Brain skills - engineering, our professions, software development, cyber security and multimedia (brain supported by eye and hand) - can't be replaced by robots either.

These are the skills that created the robots. The brains that imagined the robots. The brains that should manage our robotic future.

For brains are plastic and have to be challenged to network and grow, by provocative ideas from philosophy, literature, art and history as well as by our "wicked problem" environment.

And not be channeled too soon into the silos and departments of the industrial revolution and the jobs that will be automated, computerised and robotised in due course.

We have to foster agility, creativity, analytical, intuitive and innovative thinking and not crush it into a 20th century, old world curriculum.

Our education system must be restructured to deliver more curious individuals with new world, hand, eye and brain skills, supported and enhanced by the technologies of the 21st century.

We need courseware for the 21st century, covering 3D printing, robotics, drones, virtual reality and augmented reality and medical technology. Currently it doesn't exist.

Our education system needs to promote art and design, philosophy and literature more broadly in parallel with STEM and other technology skills.

We need to revisit the benefits of a liberal arts education – the training of individuals to be agile, to think and engage with any challenge. Education should generate ideas, curiosity, opportunity and enlightenment.

Educated for the 21st century, students will be able to meet these new challenges.

Carry on as we are and retraining, remolding and retrofitting the workforce will become Australia's biggest industry and we can't afford for that to happen. We need to get it right at the front end, and not have to fix a problem that we can see coming.

We need to introduce innovation programs into all schools, where students are set the biggest challenges – "find a solution for – food, climate change, extinction, water, war, disease, pollution, inequality". Who knows what that might generate?

We have to promote IT and software skills as the basic toolkit for all 21st century jobs across all sectors.

Creativity, innovation, design, imagination and entrepreneurship are the skeleton keys to a well-paid future. They fit every lock.

Right now we smother inspiration and innovation in the structure of our curriculum, influenced by the "what used to be" perceptions of P&C groups and mums and dads about what the best future for their kids might be. The world has moved on.

Like CEOs and Boards, most parents haven't grasped the realities of the digital revolution. They only recognise it when it impacts the industry they work in. But it now impacts all industries. "What happened to my job?" is becoming a regular theme.

It is not their fault. This subject is either sensationalised or skimmed over in the newspapers and television. Most parents want the best for their children, for them to follow the same safe pathways or fulfill the opportunities that they missed out on, without understanding that those pathways and opportunities are not real any more.

They exist only in memories of the very different economic conditions in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. When a job was for life. When you could still have a career.

The world has changed, forever and largely invisibly. It has changed because of "1"s and "0"s, and connection and collaboration and integration and most people haven't grasped how remorseless that change really is. We can't go back.

And it won't go away.

The high ground belongs to those with the creative and entrepreneurial skills, agility and flexibility needed to prosper and thrive.

And that means being able to read, write, add, divide, multiply and be digitally literate. These skills are non negotiable. They are fundamental skills, the ABC and the 123 for the 21st century.

But these "hard" skills mustn't subvert or replace the curiosity and creativity that goes hand in glove for a new world worker.

And we need these skills widespread to add value to all our productive industries...applying the skills of smart hand, eye and brain.

Adding value justifies higher wages. Adding value pays those wages. It is the major multiplier in an economy that can generate jobs, generate wealth, pay taxes and create a healthy society for us to live in.

The knowledge economy is a high value economy, demanding more people with curiosity, imagination, creative problem solving, teamwork and collaboration skills, analytical skills, initiative and entrepreneurialism.

We are the lucky country. We have mining, agriculture, creative industries, tourism, design driven professional services, health services, education, sport, media, communication and IT. These are the industries that produce the products and services to be exported, sold overseas and domestically, to generate wealth in Australia.

These industries then provide jobs in other industries, as the wealth is distributed into retail, hospitality, recreation, transport, real estate, utilities, personal services, banking and finance and so on.

And then collectively these industries provide the larger tax base that pays for education, health and other government services. The tax base the government is struggling to find.

We have a mine and we have a farm and we have megalots of innovative people. We now have to transform the lucky country into a sustainable, value adding, technology enabled future.

Farmers understand the principle of adding value, and practice it with hand, eye and brain. Most manage their productive environment well, with an eye on the short, medium and long term, putting back and reinvesting in the soil, the seed stock, the animal stock and the training, the technology and equipment needed to sustain and provide for the future. They operate in one of the most challenging environments – dealing with the Australian weather. Drought or drown. Adapt or die.

All of our industries have to be like the best farmers.

The productive industries are the first division. And these are the industries that have the capacity to generate most "high paying" jobs.

We are a bit off balance at the moment as we transition from the industrial revolution to the digital revolution. And transition from selling raw resources into adding value to our first division industries.

We still laud and reward the people who did the right thing well, in the past...the bankers and lawyers and accountants and corporates and consultants, many of whom are past their use by date but haven't quite realised that yet. Many are still hoping that nobody will notice until they can safely retire.

Of course a lot of them should have been retired forcibly in 2008 after they caused the GFC. We have a lot to learn from Iceland.

So what will it take?

Well, it isn't going to happen by accident. And we can't afford to sit back and wait. We have tendency to do that. Others will get there first.

There is no magic in a banker making money out of money. There is no magic in a casino making money out of punters. And the old world still has teeth. It still cheers and idolises the glories of the past. Just read the popular Australian press.

But our productive industries are full of real magicians.

A farmer is a real magician. So is a manufacturer, and an architect, and an artist. And a designer, a teacher and a research scientist. All our productive industries are full of magicians, ready and able to turn raw materials and ideas into value added products and services, creating lots of high value jobs.

In our society, these are the tales of magic we need to tell our children. These are the heroes we need to applaud. These are the candidates for articles by business commentators. Many are regularly showcased on Landline and Catalyst. But we need to do much more.

So what does the world need now?

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Thursday, 23 November 2017