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Workforce | Skills

Workforce transformation cause for optimism says Microsoft Australia boss

Technological disruption and the transformation of our workforce should be a cause for optimism not only concern, according to Microsoft Australia Managing Director, Steven Worrall.

Speaking at a CEDA South Australia forum on securing the future workforce, following the launch of Microsoft Australia’s National Skills Plan, Mr Worrall said while there is disruption and anxiety as jobs are taken away, at the same time jobs are being created.

“Technology, automation, the use of robots, artificial intelligence is transforming the way that industries are operating and indeed, as a consequence, the way in which economies are functioning,” Mr Worrall said.

“The very personal impact on this trend, of course, is the impact it has on working people around Australia and indeed around the world.”

Mr Worrall noted that political outcomes, including Brexit and the Trump victory are partly a reaction to the negative aspects of workforce transformation.

“We know there is real resonance with what we’re experiencing and what we’re seeing around the world in regards to the role that technology is playing to either help move the ball forward in terms of economic growth and opportunity and high paying jobs to help economies and societies continue to raise the quality of living for their citizens.

“The other implication if the economy and society doesn’t adapt fast enough, is to see dislocation and social unrest”.

Despite obvious implications for industries such as the automotive and manufacturing sectors where jobs have been lost, Mr Worrall said there remains cause for “great optimism”. The transformation of industries could, in fact, underpin the future growth and prosperity of our nation.

Mr Worrall pointed to a 2017 McKinsey & Company report that noted digital technology could have a positive impact on Australia’s GDP to the tune of $50 billion.

He also noted that projected employment growth to May 2022 indicated a million jobs could be created – equivalent to around 10 per cent job growth.

Cloud computing, the Internet of Things, mixed reality for design industries and artificial intelligence and machine learning were all potential sources of jobs growth, he said.

“It (projected jobs growth) runs counter to some of the conversations we hear in relation to the use of technology and the transition that our economy is going through.

“If you are in certain industries where technology is helping you to do a more effective job and is helping you to move forward then you’re very lucky, that’s wonderful but if you’re in others you’re doomed to a dystopian future where you’ll never be employed again and the opportunity for you to take those skills and move elsewhere is not present,” Mr Worrall said.

“We don’t subscribe to that theory but I acknowledge the commentary that we often hear in the market and in the press on that topic. And we think we should talk openly and directly about that subject so that we are all informed about the reality about what’s happening around us.

“There are still industries, leaders and economies around this country that still feel that this change isn’t going to impact them that dramatically. ‘OK this is an automotive issue for Australia, it’s a mining issue or a manufacturing issue but Australia will sail through’. There’s no guarantee we’ll sail through anything. Our national competitive ranking tells us that.

“In fact, we’re going backwards and so we think this is urgent that people really understand it and localise it for their part of the world.”

He said Microsoft’s National Skills Plan report identifies four cohorts of workers: starters, students and those entering the workforce; shifters, those whose role has gone; re-inventers, who can see the writing on the wall and want to make a change; and perennials, employed in professions that are largely complemented and supplemented by technology.

Mr Worrall said different strategies are required for each cohort. The Microsoft report urges government and organisations to be aware that change is here, plan for change and provide workers with tools to reskill.

“I see my role as to put the case for what is happening around us,” Mr Worrall said.

“Change is upon us. It’s happening whether we like it or not. The only question is: What are we going to do about it and how do we want to choose to respond?”