Skill up, the robots are coming and our jobs are under attack

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 22 May 2017
McCann Japan robot. Meet your new boss.

“There is definitely a fear out there in greater Australia” about the shift in jobs due to increased automation, said Airtasker’s vice president marketing Simon Reynolds.

Speaking at The AdNews Media + Marketing Summit’s ‘Will a Robot Steal Your Job’ panel, Reynolds said the fear is real, but we now need to work out how much this will impact the marketing landscape in the future. A survey by Airtasker even showed that 16% of Australians think their job is going to be taken by a robot one day.

Alongside Reynolds, Clemenger BBDO Sydney’s head of people and culture Clinton Parr; recruiting firm Hourigan International CEO Anthony Hourigan, founder of Hyland media Virginia Hyland and moderator, AdNews editor Rosie Baker tackled the hot topics of talent shortage and better recruiting fora more diverse and dynamic talent pool

Given the rise of automation and disruptor firms like Uber, Airbnb and Amazon, coupled with robot journalists now churning out stories and even McCann Erickson Japan's robot creative director releasing its first work, Baker questioned how media agency owner Hyland planned to sustain her business in the automated climate.

A fantastic future is ahead, but only if you change

“We all have to think about what right now is a job that could potentially be automated in your world in the next year – that potentially lessens the likelihood of businesses needing you as a person,” Hyland said. 

She recalled an early career story of 100 Fairfax employees on the floor cutting out the Herald's classified bromides and putting them in alphabetical order.

“In the year I was working there in production they announced computerisation was coming in and they wouldn’t need those 100 men any more, instead they would need just four people,” Hyland explained.

“These men, who had worked at Fairfax for 30 years went on strike. They rallied against and pushed hard to make sure this computerisation technology would not hit the Sydney Morning Herald. No matter how hard they fought it did come, it came very swiftly and four people kept their jobs. The ones that kept the jobs were the ones skilled in computerisation.”

“For me I think that our industry is definitely under attack and I think we really need to make sure that we are re-skilling right now, not tomorrow, not in a year – and be at the forefront of the wave.

She said “the people in this room” who actually do re-skill and learn new tech are the ones that are going to be at the front of the wave and “really enjoy a fantastic time as the world changes”.

“But, 'yes', we need to be aware - our jobs are definitely under attack today, tomorrow and in the future,” Hyland said.

Parr said from his perspective computers haven’t quite cracked the creative space yet. He said while McCann Japan announced its new robot hire AI-CD, with the agency saying the robot will be assigned as a creative director to several client accounts, “there still needs to be human oversight”.

What jobs are safe?

Recruiting specialist Hourigan said any role that requires any sense of repetition or efficiency is gone or going, but any role that revolves around people management, relationships, communication and creativity is still reasonably protected. He said it’s vital to learn about the world we are now living in, be a fan of technology and cutting-edge methods and be able to articulate that world upwards to management boards.

He said career history that shows you have tried different sectors is also increasingly highly sought after as it shows you can adapt.

“If you are buried in a silo it says that your ability to jump out of that is not strong and that your ability to handle dramatic change and disruption would be less,” Hourigan said.

“We are looking for agility and renaissance.”

Hourigan said when hiring, taking risks and thinking in a more innovative way is becoming much more common. He said in the top 20 ASX companies in Australia a change has begun - which is facing the reality of the technology revolution across the social and digital world.

He used an example of recently hiring Angela Clark into CommBank to head up small business. She’s one of the top 10 executives in CommBank and has no banking and no finance experience which is “unheard of in banking in this country,” he said.

“It was about finding someone who could be truly transformational at the very senior end of the bank that could start to look at small business banking in a truly different way, and more importantly, understand how they should engage with the customer base,” Hourigan said.

Clark's background was ABC digital; she help set up iView and also worked at Macquarie Radio and JCDecaux, gaining lots of brand, customer and digital business experience.

Hourigan said she brought a very different way of thinking to the bank, no doubt much like ex-Google MD Maile Carnegie who left for a role at ANZ. He also mentioned Todd Sampson, who sits on the board of Fairfax and Qantas, and how this type of move was becoming more common.

“That’s a seismic shift in how senior leadership in the top 20 or 30 companies in this country are starting to change,” Hourigan said.

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