Australia: E-Commerce Could Provoke Unemployment

Last Updated: 27 May 1999

Electronic commerce could drive rising unemployment rates if the Australian government does not start actively implementing re-training programs to support e-commerce strategies, an electronic commerce lawyer has warned.

Adrian McCullagh, Director of Electronic Commerce at Gadens Lawyers, Brisbane office, has warned that businesses who fail to make the transition to e-commerce practices run the risk of being eliminated by technologically efficient competition, leaving people out of jobs and lacking the skills to re-enter the workforce.

"The government is rapidly developing a legislative framework to support e-commerce practices in the global marketplace but they are not acting as quickly on the need to provide readily available re-training courses to ensure the workforce evolves with the new electronically driven workplace," said Mr McCullagh.

"Helping the private and public sectors to develop e-commerce strategies is only half the story, the other half is training the people involved to grow with these strategies, otherwise hostile work environments and unemployment will be the outcomes.

"All governments should be actively identifying the key business sectors with the greatest risk of unemployment and working with these sectors to develop retraining programs.

"Unions also have a role to play in the changeover to an electronic and global society, ensuring their members are receiving adequate support to maintain a relevant position in the workforce.

"The economy runs on people, technology, and resources, and without a cooperative and efficient workforce, the benefits of technology and the value of resources are lost.

"Many government agencies and businesses are racing to implement e-commerce strategies without considering the human factor, forgetting that if the people are not supporting the e-commerce strategies, the strategies will fail," said Mr McCullagh.

"The implementation of e-commerce means that some employees’ skills will become obsolete, and the government needs to provide adequate funding for TAFE colleges to develop appropriate courses that are cost-effective and relevant to the changing workforce.

"Current available courses that focus on electronic commerce are inadequate and already out-of-date.

"Courses should be focused on training people in issues such as web development, graphic design, JAVA programming, simple systems analysis, and network analysis, skills that are in demand in the current work environment.

Deciding to implement an e-commerce strategy is only the first step in a very complex process for businesses to undertake and Mr McCullagh stresses the importance of utilising relevant change management strategies.

"Effective change management strategies are critical in reducing employees’ fears and in preventing volatile internal relations between management and employees," said Mr McCullagh.

"There is a lot more to e-commerce than hiring an information technology company to come in and revolutionise the structure of business transactions, databases, communication channels and websites.

"Businesses need to determine the most appropriate method to bring their customer and employee base with the technology and the process must be smooth and made as simple as possible.

"The bottom line is that governments need to allocate sufficient funding to educate the public in the new ways of the workforce, contributing to an e-commerce enabled society and not just a commercial society."

This publication is provided by Gadens Lawyers to its clients and correspondents on a complimentary basis. It represents a brief summary of the law applicable in New South Wales as at March 1999 and should not be relied on as a definitive or complete statement of the relevant laws.

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