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How would you know a robot won’t take my job?

Tom Sherson: Roombas are replacing housekeepers, computer screens are replacing cashiers and you can pretty much print any household item you want including a house itself. My name is Tom and on the podcast today we ask, how would you know a robot won’t take my job? Hello and welcome to the first episode of a new series produced by the University of Southern Queensland, throughout this series I am going to be sitting down with industry experts and discussing topics relevant to you, your studies and your career and asking How Would You Know? 

Before we get started I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of these lands. The Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul peoples of Ipswich and Springfield where this podcast is recorded as keepers of ancient knowledge and who’s cultures and customs continue to nurture this land. I also pay respect to Elders – past, present and future. 

Today’s podcast is about whether or not robots will take our jobs but my guest for this podcast is the antithesis of a robot, welcome to the [chuckles] studio Carolyn Alchin from Career Motivate and also on the board for Career Development Association of Australia.

Carolyn Alchin: Lovely to be discussed as the antithesis of a robot. Some things I wish I could be more robotic about; organisation and things like that would be good. 

Tom Sherson: Perhaps we will play to your stronger strengths [laughter] on the podcast today. 

Carolyn Alchin: Thank you. 

Tom Sherson: Now Carolyn let me paint you a picture. You’re on a royal Caribbean cruise ship three days into a dream holiday, you want a tropical drink to enjoy on the top deck, as you do. So do you go to the closest bar staff you know? No. You select an item on an iPod and two robotic arms begin to mix your ingredients with much more precision but much less charm than your typical human bartender. Carolyn it appears as though even a profession as previously human centric as bartending is not immune to automation. How real is the danger of everyone losing their jobs and is anyone safe?

Carolyn Alchin: [laughs] Yes people are safe. First up that’s the most important thing. Many of the statistics that are shared around job loss over the next twenty to forty years, in actual fact relate to elements of a job rather than the whole job itself. So if we were to for example discuss something like nursing. Obviously technology is used repeatedly in different ways inside nursing and more technology is being used. However being a nurse isn’t going to disappear but the jobs that a nurse does and the way that a nurse completes those jobs etcetera, etcetera. They will change. So what would be necessary is to imagine a job or a role as a piece of bread we need to granulate that piece of bread in order to find the elements that will be automated or adapt to change over time. The other thing is I think that there is a lot of scaring and a lot of fear around this, but roles and jobs and careers have been changing since ‘Bamm Bamm and Pebbles’ and clubbing people over the head existed back in those times. We’ve come a very very long way and we are still very much developing. At a faster pace these days though I admit. 

Tom Sherson: I love the analogy of a piece of bread there. [Carolyn laughs] I look forward to many gluten free jobs [laughter] coming up in the near future. 

Carolyn Alchin: As a celiac I can understand it. 

Tom Sherson: [laughs] Now an extract from the 2017 Deloitte Review, claims that human and machine intelligence are different in complementary rather than conflicting ways. I guess you have kind of eluded to that a little bit just now. So, can automation create rather than destroy jobs and if so what sort of jobs will those be? 

Carolyn Alchin: Well it’s interesting when we are considering how automation can create jobs, I think that the diabolical number of tech roles that are currently being hired for in general society is obvious. I also think that when we consider the fact that as a society we have become obsessed with big data, there are more statistical reports coming out that you can poke a stick at. Interestingly enough we are also collecting huge amounts of data. When we are thinking about the jobs that can exist, often it’s not about understanding what the data is because now we have algorithms and automation but now it’s much more strategic. How can we use the data? How can this improve a client or customer experience? How can this make us efficiencies within the market? How can this add value to an at risk community. It’s how we use the data and strategise for success in the future rather than necessarily say a traditional accounting role which now that bookkeeping can be done through automation. 

Tom Sherson: Right. Would you say there’s a more surface level understanding, I know a few years ago we had an instance in the news where there was big talk about big data then meta data and potentially a little bit of public confusion. Has that changed over the last couple of years? Are we now getting to the stage where people understand things like that? 

Carolyn Alchin: I think the practical realities are helping general society understand how data is used. For example, and I’m not sure how I feel about this ethically but Woolworths sends me an email when need I milk. How Woolworths knows that is because of the way I shop. The purpose of big data I think is becoming more easily understood. The safety of data, the ethics around data, all of the above is another area of growth in relation to jobs and understanding how we should use a person’s information, the ways that we use that information and how long that information can be stored for. When we look at say accounting that I was talking about before, you’ve got a traditional accounting role which historically we might have said, you know ‘if you’re really great with numbers and you like working independently and you’re not necessarily a big fan of working with people that much then maybe this could be great for you’, is no longer the case. An accountant’s job is now has a lot more to do with getting along with clients, helping them to understand how to unpack the data for their own purposes. 

Tom Sherson: Right. Well that leads well into my next question because we are sort of talking a little bit around some labour intensive work and how algorithms and data is helping to automate that. An example of another one being Ross the first paralegal robot. 

Carolyn Alchin: Why has Ross got such a nerdy name? I just think of Friends.

Tom Sherson: I apologise to all the Ross’ [Carolyn laughs] listening to the podcast right now. 

Carolyn Alchin: Ross, I’m sure you’re a lovely person. [Tom laughs] I promise you are.

Tom Sherson: Speaking to Ross’ and everyone else who is potentially worried about that automation in their particular industry whether they’re a paralegal or an accountant or anything else. Could you shed some light on some employability skills? What skills would be most important for employees in the future? 

Carolyn Alchin: When we are thinking about skills for employees in the future, a range of different reports have come out over the last couple of years talking about those kind of skills and they frame them in a lot of different ways, so you've got things like employability skills but in different reports they might be defined as soft skills or transferable work skills or future skills for the world of work, there’s so many different ways. So when we're thinking about what skills exist in that space there's a lot of alignment. So skills for the future include innovation and creativity, flexibility and adaptability, strong communication and collaboration skills, cultural competency and I'm also going to add digital literacy to that. So when I discuss cultural competency from a political point of view; I work at a university so as you can imagine I'm not anti-cultural collaboration - the opposite is true. When we're thinking about cultural competency it's not only the ability to work across different cultures but different genders, different age groups. Being able to work with a diversity of people to meet specific goals and attain certain things in a collaborative and accepting non-judgmental way.

Tom Sherson: To throw a spanner in the works there, is that a skill you can learn or teach?

Carolyn Alchin: Definitively. When we're thinking about cultural competency a lot of the time it's about accepting that you don't know everything. So for example, if I'm working with a population that I haven't worked with before culturally, top tip – ask. It's not bad to ask because then you know. Another top tip be respectful of everyone and I mean that's a general employability skill win, lose or draw. If you use your respect and acceptance of the fact that others are different or have different ideas or different thoughts or different belief systems, it will work better. In a globalized world where we are more and more working across markets whether it be financial, whether it be creative, whether it be technological we all need to be accepting of different cultures of and styles of work.

Tom Sherson: I work in a bit of creative industry and we've always kind of seen the world as there's a creative side and there's a science side and obviously particularly marketing. Let's say science is becoming a big part of that and so is there still a place in the world for creatives or Woolworths knowing that you need to buy a new milk, is that kind of replacing that?

Carolyn Alchin: Well I think that there is still a place for creativity because when we look at innovation, that is where the jobs are and that's where the money is. When I say that it sounds quite cold but if you think about the innovations that have occurred over the last few years; Instagram you know was developed within a six week period by a group of five people and then sold for a at least a billion.

Tom Sherson: I couldn’t give you an exact figure. 

Carolyn Alchin: My point is that I think that artistic people and when I say artistic I am talking creatives. I think music is a perfect example have the skills far more than many other industries because we are now moving into a casualised world. When I say casualised what I mean is a gig economy. A lot of people think that a gig economy is something to do with technology. It is not. Don’t get me wrong technology has a part to it but it's not about gigs and megabytes, a gig economy is just like being a musician where a musician goes around and gets gigs at different places in our casualised world now, we need to be employable ourselves by knowing that our skills are wanted within industry. So from a creativity point of view, I think that that is absolutely key because if you can bring and add value to an organisation in a way that somebody else hasn't before, you have a unique sales point and particularly in marketing that is key to success.

Tom Sherson: Perfect well I'll be taking a couple of roadies with me on the road [Carolyn laughs] and trying out that one. Finally I just want to touch on what you mentioned before around digital literacy, do you want to touch on maybe that and I guess my big question is with so much happening in technology now should every student, should every employee be upskilling in coding and everything else or is that just a little bit maybe overkill?

Carolyn Alchin: Well I think it's I think it's great that it is becoming more general inside education to learn the practical skills around digital literacy. A lot of people would assume that digital literacy was understanding how to use email or Word or an office suite or an Excel spreadsheet. But if we think about digital literacy similarly to normal literacy that would be like understanding the letter A, the letter B, the letter C. When we consider really strong digital literacy it's not about the tools we use but the problems that we solve and utilising digital tools and software and hardware to actually secure a solution to a problem. So good digital literacy is being able to compile something using digitised resources to solve an issue or a problem. So algorithms for a marketing campaign, knowing how to use that to create an answer that will produce a solution rather than understanding how to code it out in the first place, coding is one part of it. Some people are brilliant at programming and other people are brilliant at strategy and so the way the world goes. So more process yes is necessary, but I think strategically it's about understanding how you can use the tools to find solutions.

Tom Sherson: Fantastic we can all live in harmony, cohesively [Carolyn laughs] forever.

Carolyn Alchin: A utopian [laughter] reality. 

Tom Sherson: What a positive way to end the episode. Thanks very much for joining us in the first episode of how would you know, as our expert and where can we find out more about career motivate as well as the CDAA?

Carolyn Alchin: Well just jump on the net and if you do a Google search for CDAA.org.au and if you jump on my LinkedIn profile, you'll hear all about career motivate and consultation services etcetera.

Tom Sherson: That's Carolyn Elgin you can check out [Carolyn laughs] LinkedIn she won't mind.

Carolyn Alchin: Thanks Tom.

Tom Sherson: Thank you very much for joining us. Well I've made it through an entire show without being replaced and on the assumption there's not a robot in my seat in the near future we've got some great episodes coming soon. Addressing topics like whether your GPA matters after uni and whether social media can help you raise your child. You can find these as well as a plethora of great career development content and advice on USQ Social Hub. That's social.usq.edu.au. Until next time my name is Tom and will a robot take your job? Now you know.