Why automation is Australia’s opportunity for a successful recovery

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Ziyan Tejani

The prospect of increasing automation in the Australian economy is understandably a source of uncertainty and fear for many. The reality remains that automated technologies are only set to become more widespread in the near future, but this reality isn’t nearly as dire as many believe. Automation is expected to provide a significant opportunity for Australia to propel out of the COVID-19 recession and to grow its economy – so long as policy makers take steps to prepare for the changes to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for automation across Australian industries. The clearest case of this has been the explosion in online purchases within the retail industry, which in 2020 saw more than a 40 per cent increase. While customers have gravitated towards online retail as a consequence of COVID-19 limitations, the move also captures a more gradual trend toward online shopping simply for convenience. Experts anticipate that this is only the beginning for these changes in the retail sector.

The food services and hospitality industries respectively will also see changes as they have been identified as most at risk of displacing human employment with automation. As such, lower skilled labourers in these industries are anticipated to be the worst affected. For example, almost half of all kitchen hand jobs are predicted to be automated by 2034, but not even 1 per cent of chef jobs are predicted to be replaced. Research has also shown that those in the accounting, finance and procurement fields are at risk, particularly those who typically perform administrative and repetitive jobs. These areas are likely to lose more than a million jobs of this kind in the next decade.

It is anticipated that almost 50 per cent of work activities from across the entire Australian economy could be automated in as little as a decade and income inequality could increase by over 25 per cent. Clearly, without any intervention, automation could have dire ramifications. This is likely to disproportionately hit low-skilled labourers and manual workers, particularly in low-income regions. Men are also expected to be disproportionately displaced.

That said, history shows that automation does not always spell the end of jobs in a