Country chapters



This chapter will explore the overall demographic, economic and key labour market challenges and opportunities within the Australian economy in the light of the trends associated with the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and its impacts on the future of work. The chapter will first address labour market challenges for the Australian economy, including the growth industries and social and demographic issues, prior to focusing on three key sectors — healthcare; information and communications technology (ICT); and tourism and hospitality. The impact of key trends and technological advances including artificial intelligence (Al), robotics, machine learning and nanotechnology on these industry sectors will be explored, with particular attention paid to the implications for labour markets, workforces, jobs and skills.

This will be followed by the presentation of data from an online survey distributed with the support of the Australian Human Resource Institute (AHRI) which invited senior human resource managers and professionals from a range of industry sectors, including the key sectors mentioned earlier. As in other chapters in this book, survey respondents were asked questions on the nature, characteristics, implications and planning required to manage the actual and potential impacts of the 4IR and relationships between technology adoption and organisational performance.The chapter concludes with a discussion of the key issues and implications of these trends and the related issues for governments, labour market planners and human resource practitioners.

Labour market trends

Australia has a population of approximately 25 million people with an employment to population ratio of 62%. Key sector outputs in the Australian economy are health and education (13% each), finance (10%), mining and construction (8% each) and manufacturing (6%) (Reserve Bank Australia - RBA, 2019: 1). In April 2019 the labour force participation rate was 65.7%; the unemployment rate was 5.1%, with the underemployment rate at 8.3%; and the underutilisation rate was 13.4% (Australian Bureau of Statistics — ABS, 2019a). The underemployment rate is particularly disturbing, given that the 4IR. is likely to result in an increase in this proportion of the Australian workforce, especially in younger and older age groups, together with overall unemployment rates of 20.5%. (ABS, 2018a).

The ABS report also found that certain industry sectors have higher rates of underemployment than others. Three sectors with high rates include: retail, healthcare and social assistance, and tourism and hospitality, which combined represent over 50% of those underemployed (ABS, 2018a; AIR., 2016). The labour market characteristics of two of these sectors (health and tourism and hospitality) together with the ICT sector, are discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

Growth industries

On the positive side, a recent report from the Department of Jobs and Small Business (2019) found growth rates for all industry sectors. Of note was strong growth for public administration and safety (up 14.6%), mining (up 10.3%) and professional, scientific and technical services (up 7.7%) whereas the manufacturing and retail sectors are decreasing (Department of Jobs and Small Business, 2019).

Demographic and social challenges

As with many countries discussed in this book (except India and Indonesia), Australia faces demographic challenges essentially driven by an ageing population and workforce, and increased life expectancy. The need to support and provide a range of services for an ageing population also places fiscal strain on governments and the services they need to supply, which, in turn, increases the cost of health care provision (The Treasury, 2010: 1). In a report compiled by the Productivity Commission in 2013 on An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future, the following projections were estimated: 'Australia’s population is projected to increase to more than 38 million by 2060, more than 15 million above the population in 2012' (Productivity Commission, 2013: 3). In terms of improved life expectancy and labour force participation rates, the report found that ‘the population aged 75 or more years is expected to rise by 4 million from 2012 to 2060, increasing from about 6.4 to 14.4 per cent of the population. . . . Labour participation rates are expected to fall from around 65 to 60 per cent from 2012 to 2060, and overall labour supply per capita to contract by 5 per cent’ (Productivity Commission, 2013: 2).

Having outlined these economic, labour market and demographic trends and challenges, this chapter next briefly outlines the key labour force issues and technologies being introduced in three large industry sectors: healthcare. ICT, and hospitality and tourism. Selected data from a survey of human resource managers and professionals based in Australia is then presented, followed by a discussion on the implications of the 4IR. for governments and labour market planners.

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