Telstra boss Andy Penn has warned against complacency as Australia tackles the loss of up to five million jobs over the coming years.
In a keynote speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Mr Penn said it would be naive to think technology would not continue to drive massive changes for workers.
CEDA research has estimated five million – or almost 40 per cent of – jobs in Australia have a moderate-to-high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10-to-15 years.
Mr Penn said many future tasks, particularly in traditional services, would be increasingly done by computers faster, cheaper and more accurately.
“Does that mean the robots are about to take our jobs? From my perspective – as a technology optimist – I would say no,” he said on Wednesday.
He said profound changes would affect all jobs in one way or another, but also create new opportunities requiring different skills and talents.
“Human creativity and entrepreneurialism should never be under-estimated,” Mr Penn said.
He said careful thought was needed about how best to prepare the workforce for profound changes.
Australia must do better in building its workforce on a foundation of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics, he said.
Mr Penn called for the country’s skilled migration program to be maintained, arguing governments needed to reject rising populist sentiment around the world.
“We need to build skills not walls,” he said.
The Telstra chief executive also urged better coordination between governments, the private sector and tertiary educators.
He said for Australia to keep its status as “the lucky county” clear goals and strategies for the future of work were needed.
“We need a vision that embrace businesses, unions, not-for-profits, governments, communities, young and old,” Mr Penn said.