The more I read, the more I am concerned about the future of the economy here in South Australia and worried about the future employment prospects for my children in this state.
As I write this, the South Australian unemployment rate is the worst in the nation at 7.7% – the next worst is Tasmania with 7%. The underemployment rate – where people are forced to survive on minimal work – is not measured formally but is, anecdotally, very high.
It really is a tale of woe.
Our mass-production manufacturing sector is basically finished. Mitsubishi is long gone and Holden will stop manufacturing cars in Adelaide by 2017. Our state government has fancifully suggested that ‘driverless vehicles’ might be an option for filling the void, without acknowledging that automotive innovators (many of which are not traditional automotive companies) have absolutely no intention of setting up shop in Adelaide.
Mining is in the doldrums with global resource prices rendering many extraction efforts uneconomic. BHP continues to cut jobs at Olympic Dam. Arrium and OneSteel at Whyalla are teetering on the brink of collapse. In any case, our natural resources are a finite commodity that cannot be relied upon forever as our state’s ‘cash cow’.
The State Government has banked heavily on Defence dollars flowing to South Australia, but the other states have upped their lobbying efforts and are competing to capture a bigger share of the pie. It looks much less certain that SA will enjoy the lion’s share of future submarine, surface vessel and military vehicle contracts.
As our state’s industries falter, our best and brightest university graduates, professionals, specialists and white collar workers continue to leave SA for the eastern states and overseas. Meanwhile, our population continues to age, limiting our economic output and productivity, reducing taxation income and putting pressure on our welfare services.
The Chinese are taking a big interest in our food and biodiversity assets (and the Port Adelaide Football Club). We seem to be willing to offload our famous beef-producing cattle stations for short term gain, without much thought of the longer term consequences. It seems that the Chinese recognise food security as one of the world’s most inexorable challenges, whilst we quite happily hand over the keys to an industry that could potentially be our saviour.
Where does this all end? Is there any good news on the horizon?
It’s actually going to get a whole lot worse.
Not only are our traditional industries being undermined by global forces, our employment landscape is becoming increasingly subject to the onset of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. Take 15 minutes to watch this very sobering video….
The video offers a very pessimistic and extreme view of the future of employment, suggesting that almost every job can be automated and fulfilled by robots. I take a less extreme view than that, but the truth is that we are going to see significant workforce change over the next 5-10 years as automation becomes more commonplace.
Process workers will be the first to come under pressure – those that have a set of repetitive actions in their job (think baristas or truck drivers). If you are a young process worker with a long working career ahead of you, then now’s the time to start thinking about your future and preparing for the prospect of redundancy of your current role.
If you’re a little more mature of age, you may need to hope that your retirement comes before redundancy.
What can our young people do to make sure they don’t become an unemployment statistic? Stay at school, learn to code, improve digital literacy, focus on the foundational STEM subjects at school (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and demonstrate adaptability, a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn.
That’s the advice that I will be giving my children as they grow up. I hope they listen. If they heed my advice, I just hope that there is suitable employment available to them here in South Australia.