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SEEK CEO worries about future jobs: QUT Business Leaders' Forum

16 March 2017

Online job site SEEK’s CEO and cofounder Andrew Bassat is concerned about the future of work but upbeat about the job market at present.

He told a packed audience at the first 2017 QUT Business Leaders' Forum that no one seemed to be owning the problem of where the jobs of the future would come from in the face of vast technological change.

“Job ads are up on last year. A year or two ago we would have said all the growth was coming from Victoria and NSW but we are starting to see Queensland actually look a bit better and even WA off a low base is pretty good; WA feels like it has bottomed out.

“(Job growth) is pretty strong across the eastern seaboard; financial services and retail are pretty strong.

“The bigger issue is the jobs of the future. We are not addressing  the fundamental problem anywhere.

“We all know where they are being lost, so many are being lost, we are seeing that every day and there’s an element of wishful thinking in terms of where the jobs are being created.

“People keep coming up with the same examples - they say data scientists and a few other things that are quite specific and that don’t employ a lot of people and are quite skilled, so you need to look through the economy look through a bunch of things, it’s not easy to see a trend.

“Basically in a lot of industries computers will do a better job much more cheaply than people. There’s always been technological change and every time new technology comes in jobs disappear and usually new jobs come in - that’s the positive outlook.

“At first, I was optimistic and then I worry even if there are more jobs how many will be in Australia.”

Mr Bassat co-founded SEEK in 1997 after he and his brother (both lawyers) saw the classified ads that were the ‘rivers of gold’ for traditional print media dry up with the advent of the internet.

After 20 years, SEEK is now the world’s leading online job site, established in 19 countries, including China, aided by a thirst for innovation that has seen the company named in the Forbes top 20 Most Innovative Growth Companies.

“We asked ourselves whether classified could move on line, and would we be a winner because the winner takes all, there is no second place.

“We started with 300 ads typed with one finger. The first thing we had to do was build the marketplace on line and be better than Newscorp and Fairfax who were putting their classifieds on line and Monster (online job competitor).

“It was two steps forward and 1.9 backward.”

Mr Bassat said SEEK ‘lost $25 million over five years before we made a dollar’. The same persistence  saw SEEK establish in China, putting 80 per cent of its success down to perseverance.

“Operating in China is very complicated. It took a long time to figure out the rules. We had many setbacks and lost $50 million in five years Our shareholders would have rewarded us if we had given up … but if you are not dead, you keep going.”

The QUT Business Leaders' Forum is now in its 20th year. Tickets for the next Forum on May 24 with guest speaker former Rio Tinto  CEO Sam Walsh are on sale now.

Media contact: Niki Widdowson, QUT Media, 07 3138 2999 or n.widdowson@qut.edu.au.

SEEK co-founder and CEO Andrew Bassat

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