Job security perceptions may be short sighted

2 August 2018

It is easier to get a machine to analyse a set of legal documents and come up with the right answer than it is to get a machine to fold laundry.

Data collected for The Australian National University (ANU) latest ANUpoll shows Australians are comfortable with their job security, even in light of automation and artificial intelligence.

Professor Genevieve Bell, Director of the ANU Autonomy, Agency and Assurance (3A) Institute, argued that while this perception may be correct for the short term, people should be preparing for job changes in the long term.

ANUpoll data shows 55 per cent of people are "not concerned at all" they might lose their job because "their employer uses machines or computer program to replace human workers."

 "The 20th century saw the proliferation of new kinds of jobs and new kinds of work, the 21st century is likely to be similar," Professor Bell said.

 "We have already gone through a significant transformation in industrial jobs, with the introduction of significant automation in factories and manufacturing. The next phase will be a transformation of office jobs, particularly in the legal, data and finance sectors.

"It is easier to get a machine to analyse a set of legal documents and come up with the right answer than it is to get a machine to fold laundry," Professor Bell said.

According to the ANUpoll, the industries least concerned with automation include construction (80 per cent 'not at all concerned'), education and training (65 per cent 'not at all concerned') and professional, scientific and technical services (60 per cent 'not at all concerned').

The industries most concerned by automation are retail, IT and accommodation/food services (all about 20 per cent 'very concerned').

Professor Bell said there will be variation within industries around the degree to which automation will take effect.

"For example, in food services, someone who manages a portfolio of businesses with a high degree of client management or negotiation will have a different perception of their job security to someone who takes food orders at a restaurant, but they're in the same industry," Professor Bell said.

"Automation will take effect at a task level, rather than at an industry level."

A cultural anthropologist by training, Professor Bell, emphasised that there is a global conversation being had around the future of work at the moment and individuals should not discount the important role they play in shaping the future.

"We are at a pivotal turning point in history, and there is an opportunity for us all to put ourselves back in the middle of the conversation around what the future of technology will mean for us as humans." Professor Bell said

The ANUpoll interviewed more than 2,500 people and results weighted to represent the national average. The full data is available on the ANU website.