On Australia Day, it’s worthwhile considering one group of convicts in the early fleets who stood against an earlier time of economic change.
As the automation of the cloth weaving process accelerated through the 18th Century, many trades in the English fabric industry, such as Croppers, found their skills in great demand.
Yet by the early 19th Century, their trades were near extinct as automation reduced the cost of weaving fabric dramatically and labourers replaced skilled workers.
This massive wave of change and loss of once well paid skilled jobs helped accelerate the Luddite movement, many of whom were transported to Australia for their role in attacking factories using the new technologies.
We should keep the plight of the croppers and Luddites in mind in today’s period of massive economic and technological change.
One notable aspect of the workforce when industries are going through major changes is how many high paid skills and business niches pop up for a short time before being overwhelmed by change.
We shouldn’t consider that many of the services and opportunities in today’s economy are permanent, quite a few businesses and skills that have appeared in the last two decades might not survive this one.
A good example is the web designer. In 1996, a punk with a little basic HTML knowledge could call them selves a web developer and three years later many of those punks were driving Porsches and Lamborghinis. By the mid-2000s most of those expensive cars were just memories for those who assumed those basic skills set them up for life.
Today we see the same thing with social media, group buying and cloud computing. Many of the services we see – some of them being valued for billions – are transition effects as markets adjust to changed conditions.
As we begin to understand the effects of trading our privacy for connections, trusting valuable data to anonymous corporations and mass selling for discounts, we’ll see consumers, governments and business adapt.
Some of today’s superstars will adjust to those changes and become the next Microsoft or General Motors while many others will fond memories after their reason for existing vanishes.
We should grab opportunities when we see them – many of the thousands of Groupon clones are doing exactly that – but we shouldn’t assume they are permanent and forever.
A time of change means none of us can assume our livelihoods, skills or assets are safe, just as those 19th Century industrial workers found when they were transported to Australia.