Event: Strong Australia Geelong

Speakers: Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott, MYOB chief executive Tim Reed, Australian Unity managing director Rohan Mead, Uber Eats Australia and New Zealand regional general manager Jodie Auster, and Sky News host David Speers

Date: Thursday 8 November 2018




David Speers, host: Good evening. Welcome to the program. We're live from Geelong this evening, on a beautiful evening, in fact, here in Geelong: the Corio Bay behind us, as the sun goes down. Welcome to our latest in our Strong Australia programs that we're doing in conjunction with the Business Council of Australia. Tonight, we're talking about the future of work, not just here in Geelong of course, but the future of work in Australia more generally. And this a great city in which to do it, because this has been a great example of the town that's gone from heavy manufacturing in the past, but since the closure of ... well car making around Australia generally; that's impacted in places like Geelong. We've seen a big transition here in what people do. And there are lessons here for all of us, when it comes to our working life, how we need to keep updating skills, and how the new technology is changing everything – robots, automation. Do we need to be scared of this? Or should we be embracing it, and how should we be embracing it?

We've got a terrific panel here tonight to talk through all of this. Rohan Mead is the chief executive of the health insurer, Australian Unity. Jodie Auster is the regional general manager for Australia and New Zealand of Uber Eats. Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. And Tim Reed, the chief executive of MYOB.

A very good evening to all of you. Thanks for joining us. In fact, we've been here  throughout the day; talking to a lot of the local business and community leaders here too, which has been fascinating. But before we get to robots and automation and how that’s changing every workplace, really, at the moment and what's in store, I think it would be interesting too to look at how the so called gig economy is already changing and disrupting so much of the workplace and the Australian economy.

And Jodie, I guess that is exactly what you guys have been doing through Uber and Uber Eats. Now, there's been a lot of focus on the industries that that's hurt – taxi drivers and so on. But as you've been pointing out today here as well, it's also created a lot of flexible work for a lot of younger and older workers as well.

Just tell us a bit about how the business works.

Jodie Auster, Uber Eats: Well, I think the really interesting thing about our business is that the ‘Help Wanted’ sign is always up. So people really just need to log onto the app, visit the website, and go through some simple steps, pass a background check, and they can be earning in no time with the Uber app or the Uber Eats app. We understand that it is so important for these people to have control over their earnings – where and when they work. And the flexibility is what they tell us is most important to them.

So, we surveyed 1,700 Australians that drive on Uber, earlier this year, and 93 per cent of them said that they do this for the flexibility.

David: Yeah. But the criticism though, is that they're not paid much. What do you say to that criticism that they're essentially contractors, independent contractors, each one of them, but they're really not earning a lot of money?

Jodie: So the earnings really depend on where and when they're driving. And we give them lots of tips and tricks in the app to help them find the best opportunities for earning. But again, it is the flexibility that they value. More than 80 per cent of them say that if they were on fixed shifts, if they had a different structure, they wouldn't choose to drive with Uber.

David: Jennifer, 10 years ago, we didn't have Uber. We didn't have Uber Eats. This sharing economy or gig economy, we're going to see more of this, aren't we? And how do you think it's disrupting the Australian economy?

Jennifer Westacott, Business Council of Australia: The thing about the gig economy is that it's consumer driven. And that's the real difference. It's the consumer saying, "I want this kind of service. I want my meal delivered. I want to get in a car and know who the driver is. I know when they're coming. I can look on the app and see where they're going." It's the ultimate kind of people power, in some respects.

David: It's not government making this happen.

Jennifer: Absolutely, and I think this is the, you know, the one thing that's different about this digital change is the consumer is driving companies. They're driving business models. What companies have to do is kind of respond to the pain points. Uber is a response to a whole lot of pain points in getting a taxi. When is it coming? Who is driving? How do I contact someone if it doesn't turn up?

David: How much does it cost?

Jennifer: How much is it going to cost me?

David: What's your growth story been in Australia?

Jodie: So, we launched Uber Eats, I'll tell you about it, in 2016 in Melbourne, in April. And in just over two years, we're now in 24 cities across Australia and New Zealand. The rides business, the transport business, the Uber app, is just over five years old. Both of these businesses have grown exponentially in the time that we've been here, which tells us we are solving a problem that consumers really wanted solved.

David: So, what's next? What's next? We've gone from Uber, to get from A to B, to Uber Eats, to get the food to you. What's next?

Jodie: Well, there's lots of interesting things coming down the line on the transport side. We really see transport as a platform. So we want to be able to, at the touch of a button, get you anywhere that you want from A to B, through whatever modality is necessary. I mentioned to you today that we had the Uber Air team in town, which is looking at electric vertical take-off and landing.

David: Now, okay, I want to get you to explain this. Uber Air, take-off and landing in what?

Jodie: So the vehicle looks a little bit like a drone. It has four passengers and a seat for a pilot. It takes off vertically, and it is fully electric, and it can go up to a range of about 100 kilometres. So you can imagine, from Geelong, about 65 kilometres-

David: You could get to Melbourne CBD?

Jodie: Yeah, you can get to Melbourne CBD door-to-door in about 18 minutes, but 14 minutes in the air.

David: How realistic is this? I mean, where are you at with this in reality?

Jodie: So there are two US cities that have been chosen for commercial testing in 2021. And we are vying to be the first international city, in either Melbourne or Sydney to-

David: In either Melbourne or Sydney, right?

Jodie: Yeah, to be-

David: And that would be in 2021 as well, the trials?

Jodie: To start testing, yeah.

David: Oh, so a few years away.

Jodie: I think this is a reality in the next five, certainly 10 years. We'll be taking to the air.

David: Tim, would you be keen to get from A to B in a ... What's it called? A vertical ...

Jodie: Vertical take-off and landing.

David: A vertical take-off and landing vehicle?

Tim Reed, MYOB: Absolutely. Why wouldn't I? And the truth is, it just creates more options. To Jennifer's point, it is driven by consumers. The market will be there because it's solving a problem.

David: And it sounds like a lot of fun, right?

Tim: Well, it certainly does. That as well.

But getting back to your first question, David, about the gig economy.

David: Yeah.

Tim: The other thing that I think is really important to point out is casualisation of the workforce is not increasing. So the proportion of people who are in permanent roles versus casual roles in Australia has been stable for 20 years now. So the great thing about Uber is it creates flexibility for people who want to dial up, dial down, tap in, tap out of the work experience. 

David: And just on that point, who are the typical drivers or riders? Are they people looking for full-time work, or are they these people Tim's talking about?

Jodie: Yeah. So we see a huge range of people that are choosing to earn this way. Whether it's retirees, who are supplementing their retirement income. Whether it's students, who are looking for a few dollars while they're studying. Sometimes it's parents, who in between the drop off and pick up want to stay local and maybe deliver food between those hours of the day. It's all sorts of people who can fit it around their lives.

David: And Tim, do you reckon it's a fair deal for those folks?

Tim: Yeah. I mean, I was in an Uber in Melbourne last week and it was someone driving home from work, right? Who said, "I drive into the city each day. I log onto the app on my drive home."

David: So instead of driving home with an empty car…

Tim: Correct.

David:... they were earning a few bucks.

Tim: And so that's somebody who's just making it work in their lifestyle for, you know, it probably helps pay the transport costs.

David: Yeah. They're not out doing a six hour shift at night driving the car.

Tim: Correct. But I think there can be a fear that there’s casualisation that’s being forced across the workforce. The point that I just wanted to make is that's not the case. Rohan and I, there's many businesses, who rely on permanent employees and who are trying to create more flexibility for permanent employees. But that model is not broken either. I think there can be a fear that it is, and the data does not say that that's the case. 

David: We've touched on a couple of areas where the gig economy or shared economy is disrupting existing problems, as you put it Jennifer, in an existing industry. I mean, Rohan, a lot of people get frustrated at health insurance as well. Is the disruption coming in some sectors like that?

Rohan Mead, Australian Unity: Absolutely. I mean David, we're across the healthcare sector and increasingly in the human services or care provision, care support sectors. And these are not necessarily the places you instantly think, where is the disruptive front edge of technology going on?

But on Jennifer's point, the community is starting to demand flexibility in the way that services are provided. We're in Australia today where 400 people plus per day are turning 75.

David: 400 a day?

Rohan: Are turning 75.

David: Right.

Rohan: Those are people who have a range of potentially clinical and healthcare needs or support needs at home. And they don't necessarily need them in some sort of nine to five block. They need them at all sorts of different times of day, and often dynamically changing through the year. Because as they respond to their own healthcare needs, their own personal circumstances, etc. Our community demands flexibility. So, I think the question comes back on business and on governments – how are we going to deliver that flexibility?

David: Well, it's an interesting point because, I mean, in-home care is only going to ...

Rohan: Increase.

David: Increase. Right. And the government's aware of this.

Rohan: Yes.

David: But is there a better way of delivering that? We're talking about the gig economy here – care is going to become independent contractors who can do this.

Rohan: Well, these are enormous, enormous sectors. You know, healthcare and social assistance is already Australia's largest employee segment. So, let's think about that. With the sort of demographics that we're facing, the needs for additional workers in this space are enormous as well. Every chance that we have, to make that workforce more productive and effective, in servicing a community’s needs – is going to be enormously beneficial to the community and to the economy.

So, for example, the sort of logistics work that Jodie is constantly refining in the Uber world, can inform the way the logistics of healthcare can be delivered in a home care setting over time. These are the way these sectors interact and bounce off each other, innovate and how we get productivity and so on. So, I think it's tremendously exciting.

David: These workers aren't unionised typically, right? Do we have the right workplace environment to deal with these changes in the economy?

Jennifer: Well, I think you've got to remember this is only four per cent of the labour market at the moment.

David: But growing.

Jennifer: But growing. But I think to Tim's point, this idea that this is going to be how everyone works – it's for particular circumstances. I think the challenge is you want to make sure people have got basic protections. But if you overregulate these things, you just close off an opportunity. You close off that opportunity for the guy who says, "You know, I'd like to earn a few extra bucks as I drive home." Some of the Uber drivers that I go with, they're sort of retired, they're just doing some stuff in the morning. You would take some of that flexibility out, and you would, I think for young people particularly, you'd cut off a pathway to work.

What I think is hugely important is that we count the gig economy as work that people can put a CV. Because it's going to be a pathway for many people who are unemployed, who then find it hard to get in and out of work, and we need to kind of wrap support services around those people. The more rigid we make that, the less likely it is. And you've got to remember it's back to the consumer –consumers have to pay for all of these things. So the more rigid it becomes, the higher the cost.

And you think about the age care system – in the way it all used to work. I had to wait at home for my Meals on Wheels to come. I had to stay at home, and it would come. But the idea that I could, sort of, send an app in and say, "Actually, I'd like it to come at two o'clock, because I'm meeting a friend or I'm doing some shopping or I'm going to the doctor, whatever."

David: And there it is.

Jennifer: This is a consumer driven movement, and if we make it too rigid, then we will kind of cut out that flexibility. Having said that, none of us want to see people working for nothing.

David: No, I think that's right. But it's a good point too about we are talking at the moment about a pretty small section of the economy. Something that's affecting the entire economy, though, is the development of automation. It's been coming, and it's been here for a long time – robotics, artificial intelligence as well.

Before we get into that conversation, you guys at the Business Council released a report last week on this. We've got just a clip of ... well, some of the key findings about what's going on with these changes in the economy at the moment. Andrew Charlton is from AlphaBeta and put this together.

[video package plays]

David: So, reskilling and re-education, underlining the importance of this. We've known that for a while. And I want to come to some ideas around how we do this better and re-skill ourselves. But Jennifer, you gave a speech at the Press Club about some of this last week. And in particular, your argument that we shouldn't be scared, too fearful, about automation and robotics. When we hear these words, we often think, "Oh, I'm going to lose my job, and we're going to lose ... large scale job losses through this." But your point is that's not necessarily the case.

Jennifer: Yeah. You've got to look at what's happening now. What's happening now is really important. So the rate of job loss through technology has been about the same for the last 50 years. It hasn't changed over that 50 year period. The rate of retrenchment has halved over the last decade. We’ve got more people in employment than we've ever had. So we've got to be very careful not to kind of frighten people with this.

What is really interesting about our research is that what goes on in jobs, the tasks that people perform, that is changing. In the latest research that Andrew was talking about then, it's about 10 per cent. But most people estimate that technology will be changing probably about 90 to 100 per cent of your jobs. But not wholesale job destruction. It's very important that we have that conversation with Australian people.

But the really important thing, David, was that our research showed that when people did not have task change, when their jobs weren't adapting and changing, they were at a higher risk of being retrenched. So the higher the task change, the lower the rate of retrenchment. Now that tells us we have got to adapt change, not try and stand in the way of it, and we've got to skill people up. And we've got to make sure we're looking after places like Geelong, helping the transition that they're going through, so that we get that adaptation at a business level and at an individual worker level.

David: Tim, for small business in particular, these sort of developments can cut out a lot of mundane stuff that they end up having to do.

Rohan: Absolutely. If I look at our clients, David, and the work that we've done over the last five, eight, 10 years, for clients who have continued to adapt the way in which they use our products. We know on average now they can save about 20 hours per month in doing bookwork, in doing administrative tasks, compared to what they could have done five, eight years ago. That's because of the automation that we've been able to bring to bear. The way in which we use optical character recognition when they get a bill from a supplier. Our software can now read that bill and put an entry into the accounting system. So they've just got to check it and say, "Okay." The way in which we integrate bank feeds for all of their bank transactions, so they don't have to enter any of those manually. All of these sorts of things that evolves the tasks that the small business owner needs to do.

Tim: Now the great news is many small business owners do that after hours, on weekends, etc. So it frees them up to spend more time in their business or, to frankly, spend more time with their kids and have a higher quality of life.

David: No, exactly.

Tim: That's the evolution that's happening in small businesses, but also in big businesses. It's just happening in jobs, and if we can all continue to evolve those jobs and tasks, we will all be better off for it.

David: Rohan, in your business, what's an example of how automation and new technology is changed the way your workers do their jobs?

Rohan: In some cases, if you look back over the last several decades, the human services area has been a place that's been slower to change in some of its work practices and habits and so on. And it can be a place where there's actually a bit of anxiety, perhaps a pronounced anxiety on this stuff.

But as Jennifer said, we are leaning into a set of very significant growth problems. These are not the problems of decline. We are facing real challenges as a community as to how we're going to get our services to our ageing population in the right way. Therefore, how we improve the quality of people's workday, how we stop them wasting time traveling inappropriately, so how we'd use computers to do that? How, for example, in the care workforce that we often concern ourselves with, how do we make sure that people are well equipped to respond effectively to the needs that they find in the circumstance with a client, with a patient? And there's an opportunity for technology to bring the aides of the modern world into someone's home. To make sure that we intervene much more effectively if there's some sort of issue or crisis or change or some sort of need – communications effectiveness.

Also, then there's the issue with training, which I know Jennifer's passionate about. In this area, with so many changing needs and requirements in workplaces, how do we use these technologies to help our human workforce develop its own skills? Not in some sort of long winded, long-term educational setting, but live as they're participating in their job or as part of their job's terrain, in any given week? How can they do some elements of training and make sure that they're achieving credentials and skills development throughout their career?

David: We need to take a quick break. I want to come, Jodie, to your personal career journey, because that's been a fascinating one to the point you're in now, to Uber Eats. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

Welcome back. We're live from Geelong this evening, we’re talking about the future of work, not just here but in Australia. But here in Geelong, it's a great example of a place that's gone through a big workplace change. For decades, cars were made here, and in a couple of other parts of Australia. Today, well, no longer making cars, but a big service economy. Big changes that have happened here, and lessons for the rest of the country as well.

Jodie, I want to come back to your story. You're now the head of Uber Eats in Australia. But you worked here in Geelong as a doctor.

Jodie: I did.

David: In fact, you did your medical training here in Geelong.

Jodie: I did some of my medical training at Geelong Hospital.

David: Right. Okay. So you're working as a doctor and you worked in emergency departments in Melbourne-

Jodie: Yes.

David:... for a number of years. How do you end up in running Uber Eats in Australia? Talk me through that transition.

Jodie: So I've always been fascinated by how things could be and challenging the status quo. And so most opportunities that were presented to me, I said, "Yes, let's give it a shot." But I think to the topic of retraining and being open and able to re-skill, I had an open mindset and I had access to that retraining. And then I had to actually do the retraining and make sure that I had the skills.

: But I mean, you presumably weren't thinking, "My job as a doctor is about to be overcome with technological change." That wasn't the driver for you.

Jodie: No, that wasn't.

David: It was simply that you wanted to do something completely different, even though you had spent what? Six or seven years training and getting to the point of being a doctor?

Jodie: Yeah. Look, I think every experience builds on the one before. I don't see any work experience or any training experience as a waste. I think the collection of the experiences is what's interesting. So I actually really enjoyed working as a doctor, really grateful for that time and the skills that I learned. And I've taken so many of them with me into the business world. They've been really, really useful – the problem solving approach, the communication of complex ideas, triage, certainly in a fast moving tech business is useful.

David: Probably important in a lot of businesses. But you're kind of, I guess, the pinup of how someone should approach work these days – not think you're going to have a 30, 40 year career. Tim, is that right?

Tim: Absolutely. And there's a few things Jodie said that I'd love to pick up on. One, her mindset. Right? Which is absolutely paramount for anyone. Like I had a growth mindset, I was looking for opportunities, etc.

But Jennifer and her team at the BCA did some work as we started this Future of Work project, interviewing the CEOs and heads of human resource and people teams at BCA members. And the themes that came through in terms of the skills that people were looking for were things like; certainly there were some digital skills etc. But they were the ability to collaborate with other people. There was emotional resilience. There was the ability to empathise with the customer. These themes came through as the themes that businesses really needed going forward.

In Jodie's example, she tapped into all of those, right? That she'd learned in one profession and was able to apply in another. Sure, there was some retraining and skills that needed to be acquired to bridge that gap. But I bet that her team really actually appreciate what she brings from the experience she has as a doctor.

David: I'm sure that's right. But I'd venture to say not everyone's quite as clever and motivated as Jodie here. And a lot of people would like to have just a job they can go to, the security knowing that that's going to be there, and that job is safe for them. They're earning enough to get by and keep their family and keep a roof over their head and food on the table. What happens when the disruption we've been talking about affects and hits them? Whether it's someone who might have been doing the books for a small business, suddenly you guys have such a clever system now that can do all that and take that away. What about someone who perhaps made food in the nursing home and now that's all changed due to disruption?

Tim: Yeah.

David: What happens to them?

Tim: So, the first point is to that Jennifer explained earlier – most of the impact is actually task evolution. So the job just continues to redefine itself. So if I look at roles with our organisation, whether it's in our sales team, our marketing team, or even our software engineering team, the way in which people go about their jobs is very different than it was a decade ago. The skills that they actually need are very different that they were a decade ago. But anyone who's been on that journey of continuing to keep up with new technologies, who's been willing to experiment and try some new things, they will have been building those skills over time. There's a lot of on-training and skill acquisition that happens in our business, but in almost every business because you need to, to make sure that your workforces are moving forward and able to produce the products that’s in the market.

David: It seems, Tim, what you're saying that the onus should be on the business to be doing that?

Tim: Well, the onus has to be on everyone. So the business absolutely has a role and a responsibility. The individual also has a role and a responsibility. And in Australia, with education provided the way it is, so does the government and the educational institutions.

David: But is a business really going to help skill someone up to leave?

Tim: Absolutely. We do it every day.

Jennifer: We do it all the time. All the time.

Tim: Everyday, knowing that team members will have a lifespan with the business. And then it'll be the right thing for them and business often, for them to move on. But the more that you invest in them, the more likely they're going to stay longer.

Jennifer: I think the point though, David, is so much of this is happening now. Like once upon a time, you went to pick up your car from the mechanic, someone came out. And now they're coming out in almost like a suit and they've got a computer looking at the car. Their jobs are completely different. If you're a mechanic now, you're using digital analytics to see what's wrong with the car. So many jobs, so many jobs in the health system now are very, very different. So this is happening now, and this is the thing I think we've got to kind of make-

Rohan: But Jennifer, you make the point that there's a few barriers that we could usefully lower.

Jennifer: Yep.

Rohan: So I think the point here, David, is that in some places, on the examples that you gave, the sense of foreboding about retraining or taking on a new approach is full of fear and concern for people because we don't make it small enough, we make it a large cliff you've got to try and scale. So, I think we've really got to think about how we redefine training, credentialing, learning etc.

So, I'm with Tim. I think everyone's responsible here. But, not least, we've got to find a way to rewire some our approaches to education and training.

David: What's been the experience here with, car making is a good example. And I know we've looked at a few areas through the course of this year. Like Elizabeth in South Australia, Broadmeadows, up the road as well. What's been the experience here with those people who were making cars, making Ford cars?

Jennifer: I think people forget there's still 1,000 people working at Ford, and those people are kind of in that high-tech design. There's been a lot of people from the current string who have gone into other forms of advanced manufacturing. I mean, no one is suggesting the five year transition hasn't been difficult. What's incredible though is how creative people are; and how they're thinking through, "Well, how do we ramp up and scale up in the advanced manufacturing sector? How do we specialise in these incredible niche technologies that are part of bigger supply chains globally? How do we expand the human services area, which is a growing part of our economy?" So, NDIA, the administrative, the NDIS is here in Geelong, bringing with it a lot of public service jobs.

David: And that's been a government decision, hasn't it?

Jennifer: Sure.

David: To help a town like Geelong by putting that here?

Jennifer: Yep. But you've still got a big investor in Viva, the oil refinery.

David: Yeah.

Jennifer: You've got the role of the airport, which is quite a catalyst to a lot of economic activity. And I think in meeting with the Chamber of Commerce today, people have got a very clear sense of direction and purpose. You've got a very active university here that's really been quite transformative in Geelong. You've got a very active TAFE. So all the ingredients are here – talented people, good skills. I think this is a story of recovery, transition, reinvention. Not a story of doom and gloom.

Rohan: What you would hear today David and what we've seen in other place around Australia, but what we know is big and small businesses work together.

Jennifer: Yep.

Tim: That they succeed together. And so when you get something like the NDIA who sets up here, yes, that has a direct impact. But actually has an amplified impact.

Jennifer: Yep.

Reed: Because more of the other small businesses around in the local community, as the people come in, that they then need services. And so there's a multiplier effect. I think that's what we heard about today as well. When you lose someone like Ford or Target, both of whom have left Geelong, it does have a big impact on the local community. But the real impact is on the individuals. But if we can work, as an ecosystem, if we can work as a local community to bring someone else in, you'll actually see the amplification of that effect by big and small working together.

David: Just coming back to the worker, I wonder if there is a change going on generationally here as well. I mean Jodie, not the drivers, but your employees, do you have a younger workforce than the rest of the economy typically, in a company like yours?

Jodie: We do, in the Australia-New Zealand business at Uber have quite a young workforce. I think they're highly engaged, quite impatient, and always pushing themselves to learn and grow. They want to experience lots of different things at work, in a short period of time.

David: Right.

Jodie: So there's always talk of almost asking for task change, asking for function change in a way that I think people have been afraid of in previous generations.

David: Are they sticking around in the company for long?

Jodie: Yeah. I mean, it depends what people's expectation of normal is. I think in the younger generation, staying with the company for two years is quite normal. And some companies would be horrified by that amount of time.

David: Well, is it frustrating for you to lose staff on that sort of turnover? Or is that ...

Jodie: It depends. If your business is set up to engage those people, you can often keep them for a longer period of time. But you do need to give them multiple fresh experiences and then training and all that stuff.

David: So how do you do that? How do you do that? Do you shift them from marketing into some other part of the business? Or are you giving them a free course in this or that? How do you manage that?

Jodie: So there is the expected on-the-job training that happens. We do deliver a lot of that online. So that means, for a global company ... we're in 65 countries. We've got teams all over the world. We often produce online materials that they can access on their own time, at their own pace. So that's a really powerful method of learning. But the other thing is providing easy mobility, both internationally as well as across functions. And that hasn't always been easy in companies. If you're a salesperson, you're a salesperson. You don't move. At a company like Uber, that's not true, and it's a really important value proposition to offer to a younger generation of workers.

David: What's your experience, Rohan, with this?

Rohan: Firstly, I think we can, you know, overstate thing here, but there's a really important point. Jennifer made the point earlier about the percentage of casualisation, and Tim commented on it. It's been broadly stable and very things. But one of the things that I think is wonderful about the younger cohorts in the workplace today is they bring a sort of change literacy and a confidence about change that infects the rest of the workforce. The older workforce look at these people who are so comfortable with relatively fluid situations – changing jobs, looking to level up at work, get a new challenge, get to a new level. That's something that is really positive for the whole workplace.

So, I don't see net negatives here David. I just see a constantly adapting, fluid system, which is really exciting. And I think the challenge for business is how do you harness these assets in ways that are usefully productive? I think it's very exciting.

Jennifer: And I think to Rohan's earlier point, we just got to make it easier for people to retrain. Because this is just going to be so quick and this task change, as Tim says, it's going to be constantly evolving. People can't go back and start an undergraduate degree again. They can't go back and do a certificate III at TAFE. We're going to have to find a way where people can get a module, get a few modules, something from TAFE, something from university which is quite specific and that they can do that really quickly and they can get a set of credentials so that they can then take those credentials whether they stay in that company or move somewhere else. They’re poured across the labour market. That's the key to unlock.

Now they're developing that here at the TAFE in Geelong. We want to see that across the country, so that Rohan's got someone he has to retrain, you send them off to do a module or something, rather than you've got to go and do a degree.

David: When you say module, you're talking just about a what? Six week, 12 week-

Jennifer: Six weeks or ... it'll be different with different things. But it's not you have to retrain and you have to go back and start an undergraduate degree or a whole certificate, to Rohan's earlier point. That's just daunting for people.

David: And then ... Sorry, Tim. You go.

: No, I was just going to say to the point Jodie was making, that happens inside of businesses as well. So at MYOB, on average, a team member is with us for about eight years. But it's highly likely that they'll be in three or four different roles in that time. And that's what they want, right? They've mastered something. We want it too, because to me, knowledge is incredibly important – understanding the context of our customers, understanding the challenges that they face in the business. Seeing it from one perspective, and then taking it to another part of the business is immensely valuable.

So in making that change though, there's every chance that there might be some external learning that the person needs to do, which is great. They will also be complemented by on-the-job learning.

David: Well, this is the thing – great, if your employer's willing to train you and give you a new course to do or a module to do. What if they're not? Who pays for this? Jennifer, this gets to, well, an idea that you've been pushing for a while now – a lifelong skills account for every Australian.

Jennifer: Yep. Well, for every Australian studying. So what that would mean is if you went and did your undergraduate qualification, whether it was TAFE or university, you obviously do that first. But then in your working life, you would be able to get a subsidy and an income contingent loan to do a particular module of training, that would be capped over someone's life. But the whole idea is that instead of you having to rely on your employer to do that, you can initiate that.

David: So, a bit like HECS?

Jennifer: Well, not really. A little bit. One part of it would be like HECS – the income contingent loan and a subsidy that obviously is paid for by the government. The role of the employer, of course, is to give you time off, and their contribution is to do that. But I'm really worried about the people in small to medium enterprises, because their employers will not have the scale to retrain everybody.

What we want to see is that consumers have got access to a funding base and an accreditation base that allows them to say, "I now need to go and do one of these, one of these, one of these." In conjunction with their employer. And then it's probable. Then they can say, "Well, now I've got these credentials, and I can go and work at Uber, I can go and work at Australian Unity, I can go work at MYOB, I can go and do a whole lot of things because I've now got these specific skills."

We're going to break the system down. The idea that people are going to be in university for five and seven years before they enter the workforce, which is going to be very different.

David: Which a lot of them are doing at the moment.

Jennifer: Yep, which is going to be very different. This is the first time I've ever heard employers say that people coming out of institutions actually can't do the job that they need them to do. That's a big worry.

David: So, in other words, young people are spending too long at university, as a general rule right now?

Jennifer: Yeah, I think so. And I think what happens now and people can't get a job, they have to do a master's qualification. Well, that's another two years.

David: But isn't that giving us the higher skilled base that we need?

Jennifer: Well, I think it depends on the job. Most people want to work, that's the ... We've got to find a way where people can learn and work at the same time. And that's the point of the lifelong skills account. And more importantly, the people who are 55, they're not overwhelmed by that thinking, "My God, I've got to go and do a computer science degree." No, no, no. They need to do particular modules, which their employer should be working with them about, saying, "Now I can stay in my job."

David: I don't know what everyone's example here is, it's a long time ago, I was at university. But the course I had in journalism, of course, could have been packed into one year, but was spread out.  Exactly. You'd think you'd learn a lot more on the job. But I'm sure it's not the only degree course that's strung out over too many years, essentially. Is that a common view of university learning these days?

Tim: Well look, I think there's multiple parts of learning that lots of people do during those years as well. Part of it's in the classroom, but part of it is also a period of development for individuals. Lots of them do have part-time jobs during that time period. They're actually acquiring skills in life-

David: Well, that's true.

Tim:... in other parts of their time. So I don't want to be ... I don't think it's the end of universities, and I think universities have a role to play. But I do think that there's been this sort of ... we've had multiple tiers and almost judged differently for different types of learning. Apprenticeships have been falling, and there's a shortfall of skilled tradespeople. You look at that and say, "Why do we push everyone into university, and it's the only path? Versus, frankly, there are lots of ways that we can learn." What we need to do is make sure that people are getting the skills that they need, such that they can then provide for themselves, for their family, have a fulfilled life, be able to be out there contributing. And university is not the only path.

David: All right.

Rohan: And not the only location either. On Jennifer's point, Jennifer's suggestion potentially represents a real challenge to the institutional form. So yes, there might be a module and that might be outside of the workplace. But hang on, what about institutions reaching into the workplace and making themselves relevant-

Jennifer: Yeah, exactly.

Rohan:... to the worker in particular circumstances?

Jennifer: Yep.

Rohan: The possibilities here are tremendous.

David: All right. We're going to take another quick break. After that, I wouldn't mind getting into what people who are thinking about the future of their workplace, future of the economy, what sort of training they should be looking at; what sort of things they should be thinking about doing. Self-motivating, as we have been discussing. Stay with us.

Welcome back. We're live from Geelong tonight. We've been talking about changes in the workplace. And look, sure, there are going to be plenty of positives and we're seeing that – a lot of mundane tasks disappearing, freeing up small business to think more about their business and spend more time with their family and so on. But at the same time, there are jobs lost along the way. We all remember when there'd be someone on the checkout at every supermarket, and now you've got to do it yourself. And all these changes do cost a lot of these lower skilled jobs, their work, their livelihood.

So, for those who might be wondering about what their kids or grandkids should be learning, should be studying, Jodie, what would be your advice as to the sort of skills that a young person is going to need to be best equipped for whatever's in store in the future?

Jodie: It's a great question. I often think about this for my own kids – what work are they going to be doing? I think a lot of the jobs that they're going to be doing don't exist yet. So it is hard for us.

David: Well, when you think about it, your business didn't exist not so long ago.

Jodie: Yeah, that's right. It is hard for us to predict. But I think there are some evergreen skills that will always be important – the ability to collaborate and communicate with the people that you're working with, the ability to have that empathy and connection with other people, and then maybe some of the more hard skills like problem solving. And if you like it, analytics and technical skills is useful. But if you don't like it, how do you apply that problem solving to other complex problems that are non-technical?

David: Well, Tim, what would you suggest are things you should be learning and things you shouldn't bother about anymore?

Tim: Yeah. So I think the AlphaBeta report went into this a little bit, and what it said was, "repeatable physical skills, and repeatable intellectual processes will go down." 

Jodie: So data entry?

Tim: Correct. Data entry, or just routine calculations. Or anything, robotics and AI effectively will automate those routine things. What will expand is creativity, human empathy, interpersonal interactions. And that's been happening for 15 years. If you look at the data, those repeatable physical and repeatable...the processing calculation things have been coming down, and the others have all been rising. So that's not new. It's just a continuous process.

So what I would say is, if you look at job with an accountant, because I work with them all the time, those jobs are not going away. There will be more accountants tomorrow than there are today. The nature of the work that they're doing is changing though. So accountants now need to be able to interpret financial information more, and be able to relate that to their clients in a way that has a positive impact in their business. Well, guess what? That's what most people who are graduating from accounting degrees want to do. They don't want to sit there and do journal entries. They actually enjoy involving themselves in the thought process of what's happening in this business, and how can I help set it up for more success in the future?

David: We've seen, Jennifer, over the decades, a lot of kids striving to do law degrees, a business degree. What would you be suggesting are the sort of things people need to learn now for the jobs of the future?

Jennifer: Well, I think there's some core things. First of all, I want us to do something about literacy. We just cannot continue to produce kids even at year 12 who wouldn't pass level three functional literacy tests. Surely, as a country like Australia, we can do better than that.

Speers: Yeah.

Jennifer: I'd love us to have like a digital apprentice for young people and people who have not had exposure to digital skills. I think if you're not on the digital stuff, you're going to find a lot of…

David: And that's what scares a lot of people, frankly.

Jennifer: Of course it is. But we've got to find that...make that easier. Most people who say, they say, "I don't know anything about computers." We say, "Got a mobile phone?" "Yeah." "Well that's a computer." "Oh, okay. Righto."

David: That's a good point.

Jennifer: I just want to talk about checkouts very briefly, because there are still a lot of people on them.

David: There are.

Jennifer: And Brenda, who's the longest serving checkout chick in Coles, you ask her about technology, she's says, "Technology has enabled me to stay in this job for 50 years." And customers queue for her checkout because they like talking to her and she's still fantastic at her job.

Tim: I much prefer having a person.

Jennifer: But it’s technology has enabled her to work. When I worked on the checkout, we had to kind of ring everything up.

David: Yeah.

Jennifer: By the end of the day, your hand was really sore. Your mind was sort of gone.

David: Right. Right.

Jennifer: So, we've just got to make it a lot easier for people. But I would say to young people, you have got to find the things that you like, as opposed to what people tell you, you should do. You've got to think about the things you're good at, as opposed the particular job. And digital, digital, digital skills are absolutely crucial.

David: And look, the checkout is just one example. But I remember as somebody who used to fill up your car for you as well, at the servo. What puts your…

Rohan: But on the caring professions, what Jennifer's talking about is exactly true as well. The amount of time that we ask people whose highest level of occupation is to actually interact with other human beings, to do all of this other administrative stuff. So the opportunity here is not a negative one. We can actually take some of this away and let people who are in these particular areas, because that's what they love to do, to do more of it, in a circumstance where these needs are growing. So we've got to engage with this. We've got to embrace this. Treat this as a positive opportunity to think about how do we help the people who are truly disadvantaged, as Jennifer said…

David: Yeah.

Rohan: ... make sure that they can step over some of the barriers?

David: Yep. No, it's an important though to finish young. Don't be too afraid of these changes that are going on, because they're going to keep coming in the workplace. There's no doubt about that.

A really interesting discussion with all of you tonight. Thank you so much for being a part of it. I've learned a lot as well, I heard tonight as well. So thank you.

Thanks for your company too. Goodbye for now.

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