Change in focus

I still read a lot about change management, knowledge management and what have you. While I take it on board as you can see over the past year or so, clearly I cannot be bothered blogging about it.

What I will start blogging about, and hence altering the nature of this site (and the frequency with which I post here) is the state and future of work in Australia. Since I was a schoolboy I was fascinated by the idea of work and career, and the idea that computerisation and other social shifts were causing some jobs to not only become ‘cooler’ or more fashionable than others, but that they rose in value while others diminished. This interest led me into politics (and out of it). I built a career (kind of) around IT on the back of it. When politicians talk about jobs they can be terribly condescending, but when they do so they are getting closer to core business than when they walk about almost anything else.

You have to start somewhere, so let’s talk about this articlethat one and this interview by Paul Wallbank.

At the turn of last century, Sydney City Council employed six men to clean the streets of horse manure, and a prediction at the time held that the city would run out of space to store it all by about 1970. Technological and social change solved that problem, and created others.

At that time, Cobb & Co was Australia’s largest transportation network, with a command over the markets for transporting goods and people that no modern company has matched. Cobb & Co could have snapped up the fledgling Qantas for a song, but it didn’t; instead Cobb & Co crashed as Qantas took off, and nobody seems to want to catch the falling knife that is Qantas today.

At that time, Australians feared societies to our north and west where labour was cheap, as they were competitors who would destroy our way of life by doing the same work for less. Back then there was an extra layer of condescension that Australians could put upon such people to shift the debate away from like-for-like product outcome comparisons, and that was racism.

Today, knowledge-work jobs are either being done by software, as Wallbank points out, or (as he doesn’t) software is facilitating the transfer of that work offshore so that middle-class jobs and entry-level professional opportunities are starting to decline here in quantity and status. Today, racism isn’t a factor in deciding whether or not to offshore jobs, but it is still a factor in political debates about who is physically admitted to Australia.

It is hard enough making points about technology-driven social and economic disruption, particularly for a country that tends to avoid discontinuity and upheaval where possible, without buying in to debates about offshoring – which tends to affect professions with little political and social clout anyway.

Hopefully this blog will be a bit more focused and fact-driven and less rambly than this post. But, as far as subject matter goes, this is the road we’re on; less-travelled, thorny and laborious with a strong suspicion there has to be an easier way and someone else is doing this stuff better. And while you might not want to start from here, I have no choice so bear with me.

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2 comments
  1. Hi Andrew. If you can apply the same perspicacity here as on your political blog it will be worthwhile. Like you, I work in IT (programmer) and have dabbled in politics (on the other side). In recent years I’ve been worried about the future of the profession. It seems to me that it is not only happening in IT and software engineering, but engineering in general and plenty of other middle class professions like accountants and even lawyers too. Certainly even people in my workplace I wouldn’t have said are politically motivated or particularly observant of these things are noticing it now: one person even expressed a deep distress at the future of the country if all the well paid high skilled jobs disappear.

    The “start up” culture simply can’t replace the number of jobs that once were found in Government and corporate IT graduate programs. But it’s not just about the jobs lost overseas, I think another core part is that IT functions are external to the host organisation often can’t or won’t deliver business value to the company. I work in a business domain where the best IT people need rich domain knowledge that takes years to acquire. The company is doing itself a deep disservice if thinks just anyone with toolset knowledge can replace that. Look at the old-school culture where a bloke (Always a bloke then) became CEO by working up from the mail room. The point is that bloke intimately understood the business and the market in which they operated in a way a flash git with an MBA never will. Sure sometimes being an outsider has competitive advantages (not locked into old ways) but this isn’t always true.

    Are we destined to become just a nation of service job employees? I don’t find that anyone in politics is really engaging with this process either. The ALP remains too focussed on their traditional industrial base; the LNP doesn’t give a toss about the people their corporate sponsors displace.

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