This month The Slade Report celebrates our first anniversary with a series of articles from the printed newsletter published under the same banner in the mid 1980s. Some 28 years ago we highlighted the importance of technology in shaping the world @work, which has unsurprisingly held true. Enjoy this abridged version with a few editor’s comments on the side (aka The Zeitgeist of 1986).

Aided and abetted by sustained high commercial interest rates (interesting contrast) and the growing use of temporary labour, the shape of business is changing from the organisations of the 1950s and 60s. It is slimming in middle management and changing in its content. But perhaps the most important influence in organsisational structure in the eighties is technology. There is a need to focus on the question of how we do our work in order to determine who does it. (seems a rather esoteric question)

The second half of the twentieth century will be characterised as a period of burgeoning technical advance. Computer power is here to stay. (!!!!!) When combined with satellite communication inspired from Buck Rogers cartoons of only thirty years ago, business has to carefully re-appraise itself on how it will operate in the future and put itself into a position of continual adjustment for growth and even survival. (oh my, satellite communication)

Australia does not need the kind of structural unemployment which befalls the UK labour market. (same same, only 30 years difference) And we don’t need companies which won’t adapt to an evolutionary environment. Dinosaurs are left behind in every era – in the eighties and beyond the skeletons will be derelict corporations. (true true)

Yes, jobs have and will be lost to technology, but this is where employers, governments and educational institutions must concentrate their efforts to retrain the nation’s obsolete labour force to again be productive. (continues to be a work in progress)

The demands of both international and internal competition are such that no company can carry ‘passengers’ engaged in less than capacity performance.

In manufacturing, particularly metal fabrication and transport equipment industries, the march of robotics is undeniable.

In 1982, there were about 100 robotic units in Australia. Today, that total is closer to 700 and is expected to double again within four years. (180,000 industrial robotic units were shipped in 2013)

This augurs good news for competiveness and potential for employment in the processing, accounting and sales of the goods manufactured by robots. (we’re probably only now realising the potential for bespoke manufacturing)

So, after the primary industry has been thinned out by applied technology, now follows the manufacturing sector. Technology is swelling the ranks of the employed in the service sector and service aspects in manufacture process.  Technology is changing the labour patterns – away from dull, repetitive and sometimes uncomfortable tasks to more satisfying, challenging roles. It is providing productivity: the key to economic performance. We have to grapple with how to best harness the opportunities technology offers business, and how best to adapt a workforce so it is capable of contributing in our brave new world.

Geoff Slade  (Prognosticator)

This article was first published in The Slade Report newsletter, October 1986