Concern about the impact of new technology on jobs is the "defining anxiety of our time", says a Labor frontbencher.
Opposition finance spokesman Jim Chalmers said in the annual John Button lecture delivered in Melbourne on Monday night Australians hold genuine fears about where they fit in a workplace dominated by machines.
"The impact of new technology on jobs is the defining anxiety of our time," Dr Chalmers said.
He cited an Oxford University study predicting 47 per cent of all jobs in the US were at risk of being automated, with a similar study putting 40 per cent of Australians in the same boat.
"We're dangerously ill-prepared for the changes to come - we not only need to ensure people aren't left behind when the nature of work evolves, but we need to make sure the benefits of the new machine age are distributed widely and not just concentrated in the hands of the few," the Queensland MP said.
On the optimistic side, technology and automation was forecast to add $2.2 trillion to the Australian economy by 2030, according to a study by AlphaBeta.
Dr Chalmers said reforming the education system through proper needs-based funding would be a good first step to preparing for the machine age.
Other policies could include training and mentoring more science, technology, engineering and maths teachers, emphasising computational thinking and properly resourcing early education and intervention, especially in poorer communities.
"Whether we see opportunity or threat, the course is the same: capitalise, not capitulate."
At a workplace level, encouraging lifelong learning to upgrade skills "constantly and habitually" and enabling portable retirement and sickness entitlements would be useful steps.