Australian businesses must actively participate in building the skilled workforce of the future or they will struggle to find employees in coming years, says ‘A smart move’, a new report by PwC that looks at the effects of digital disruption on the economy.

PwC’s analysis, built on work undertaken by Oxford University, shows that 44% of Australian jobs are at high risk from computerisation over the next two decades – meaning they are likely to become functions automated by technology.

As a result of digital disruption, many jobs will simply cease to exist; those that do remain, face being fundamentally reshaped or reduced in number.

An example of disruption cited by the report is 3D printing, which has radically changed the notion of ‘where’ and ‘how’ manufacturing is done. This is turn is set to radically disrupt traditional supply chains and the jobs associated with them.

Replaced by automation

Roles most likely to become automated in the next 20 years include accounting clerks and bookkeepers, financial and insurance administration workers, and personal assistants and secretaries.

That means PwC Australia is itself at risk from the same disruption, by virtue of being the nation’s largest accounting firm.  As CEO Luke Sayers explained in a recent speech referring to the report, one of the ways in which the firm has responded to this threat is by launching Nifty R&D, an online-only tax refund service that reduces processing time from around six weeks to one day. “PwC benefits by keeping the digital challengers at bay, while creating value for our clients,” he said.

STEM education – which evokes the skills associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics – is seen as key to supporting innovation and building a workforce of technologically savvy employees that can drive future economic growth in Australia.

Despite research showing that 75% of the fastest growing occupations now require STEM skills, in 2012 only 16% of higher education students here graduated in STEM-related subjects, whereas Singapore’s figure was 52%. Enrolment numbers in STEM courses here remained flat between 2001 and 2013.

Economic gains from STEM skills

A smart move calls on businesses, government and the education sector to actively collaborate to increase student engagement in STEM subjects.

This was one of the major drivers behind the PwC Chair in Digital Economy, an Australian-first position recently launched at Queensland University of Technology to help drive the state’s digital economy through both education and industry involvement.

Examples of other businesses that are active in promoting STEM education include Cisco, which pledged up to $31 million in Australian STEM education, and BHP Billiton, which has launched a $28.8 million CSIRO program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

PwC modelling suggests that shifting just 1% of the current Australian workforce into STEM occupations by 2035 could deliver a $57.4 million economic benefit.

The report suggests that as the ‘end-users’ of our education system, businesses have an important role to play in supporting STEM education, including:

  • Utilising core skills to help scale initiatives that are proving to successfully engage kids in STEM learning.
  • Applying innovation skills to help unearth new approaches to engaging kids in STEM and build the skill set they’ll need for 21st-century work.
  • Taking a coordinated approach to student engagement in STEM career pathways through activities like internships and work experience.

To find out how you can future-proof your workforce, download your copy of ‘A smart move‘.



Tan Allaway

Tan Allaway is a former editor of PwC’s Digital Pulse.

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