This opinion article by Jennifer Westacott was published in the Geelong Advertiser on Monday, 5 November 2018.

Work is at the centre of all economic policy, and rightly so.

We spend much of our lives in our workplaces, we look for jobs which are rewarding, which pay well and which we can be proud of.

When I was 15, I landed my first job at a supermarket, working on the checkout, packing shelves and cleaning.

I still remember the thrill I felt when I received the call to tell me I had that job. It represented so much more than the pay packet I took home.

It meant I had control over my life. It gave me options, choices, direction and stability, and it boosted my confidence and self-esteem.

We should work every day to deliver that opportunity for every single Australian.

But the world of work is changing, and that means people are rightly anxious about what the future holds.

This change is inevitable, so we must act to make sure we don’t lose out.

Nowhere is the rapid emergence of automation and new technologies clearer than in regional centres like Geelong where old industries are transforming and entirely new and unforeseen ones are developing.

The rise of artificial intelligence and automated work can seem daunting but, while we can’t afford to be complacent about change, let’s not be overly anxious.

Researchers at AlphaBeta estimate that the rate of job losses due to automation is no higher today than in previous peaks over the past 50 years.

Those most likely to pay the price if we don’t get this right are those already the most disadvantaged workers with the lowest skills.

As work becomes more complex, these people will become increasingly excluded from the workplace.

The cruellest and most unfair thing we can do is close our eyes and pretend that change won’t happen.

What we can do is begin to reform our education system, making sure learners are getting the basic skills they need at school and later that the vocational education system puts them at the centre.

We can create a workplace relations system that includes a universal safety net that spells out basic rights and conditions such as the minimum wage but which does not create the rigidities that smother job opportunities.

To keep people working and to keep jobs in Australia, we need to embrace the change and be ready to adapt.

We have an obligation to make sure people feel part of this extraordinary transformation, and that starts by getting out of the Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra bubble to hear directly from your community.

Our Strong Australia luncheon in Geelong is an opportunity not just to talk about how businesses are helping lead the way in this transformation but to hear directly from you — what are your ideas? How can we work together to make sure the transition isn’t just managed but leaves us better off?

Reform and change will be difficult, but these things are achievable with shared purpose.

We have no time to waste, so let’s get on with it.

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