University educated jobs could be replaced by robots

It’s funny how much changes within one generation.

When my dad was in high school 50-odd years ago, everyone was encouraged to get a trade. He learnt how to manage old-school printing presses, right around the time that printing presses moved to a more automated process.

His skills were out-dated practically as soon as he finished his apprenticeship.


By the time I was in high school a few years (decades) ago, the party line had changed. A university education was the key to success, we were told.

Go to school, go to uni, get good grades, work hard – and you’ll be set with a stable job for life.

And today? Who knows!

Automation and robotics are set to put huge numbers of service sector jobs at risk. Not just menial jobs that we all expect and encourage artificial intelligence to master, like cleaning sewers. But actual, real, thinking-people’s jobs.

Virgin Australia chair Elizabeth Bryan says we need to brace for change – even though we’re all resistant to the idea that a robot could feasibly replace us.

“Jobs in the service sector that were largely immune from job losses during the last stage of globalisation, are now at risk because of these advances in robotics,” she told the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ governance summit in Melbourne last month.

“However, don’t think for a moment that boards will be able to drive waves of mass reduction in employment, without very serious pushback.”

Translation? It would be political suicide to wipe our your workforce and replace them with robots. For now.

But in the next 5 years? 10 years? We’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that we won’t just be competing against younger, fitter, fresher talent from the generation coming up behind us, but we’ll be competing against robots for employment.

It is not just low skill occupations being hit by advances in technology, Elizabeth says, as many university-educated, white-collar workers are about to discover their jobs are also under threat.

As Elizabeth offers in a chilling warning, “Education will not necessarily offer effective protection against job automation in the future.”

As for the next generation, who knows what’s coming; the advent of clones?!