03/05/2018 - 15:34

Sutherland sees the sunny side

03/05/2018 - 15:34


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Programmed managing director Chris Sutherland has talked up WA’s economic prospects, while challenging alarmism about artificial intelligence and labour trends at a Success & Leadership breakfast this morning.

Sutherland sees the sunny side
Chris Sutherland says flexibility in the labour force is essential. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Programmed managing director Chris Sutherland has talked up WA’s economic prospects, while challenging alarmism about artificial intelligence and labour trends at a Success & Leadership breakfast this morning.

In contrast to recent analyses, including a CommSec report that claimed Western Australia had the nation’s worst performing economy, Programmed managing director Chris Sutherland is positively upbeat in his assessment of the state’s future.

“I reckon if you wanted to start a business, starting one in Perth right now would be a good time,” Mr Sutherland told last week’s Success & Leadership breakfast.

“Go and sign yourself a nice cheap CBD lease for the next five years, get the first year rent free and you’re set up.”

Mr Sutherland said most sectors of the economy were performing well, aside from businesses working on big resources projects such as Wheatstone, Prelude and Ichthys.

“I think that while there is a bit of a shock to the system as the three large capex (capital expenditure) programs come off, outside that sphere the WA economy has handled very well,” he said.

“Certainly our belief is that the next 12 months will definitely be an improvement on the past 12 months.”

As head of the largest labour hire company in WA, Mr Sutherland said his business had noticed improvements across a number of sectors.

“We see it in education and health, infrastructure … this state is actually quite dynamic if you think about some of the stuff we do in infrastructure,” he said

“From our point of view, I think the next five to 10 years, the outlook is actually very good.”

Labour casualisation

Mr Sutherland disputed a recent advertising campaign run by the Australian Council of Trade Unions claiming labour hire companies are undercutting workers’ wages and offering limited job security.

He said the claim that the workforce was becoming more casualised was false.

“The number of casuals in the total workforce in Australia sat at about 20 per cent in 1999 and sits at about 20 per cent today – it just has not changed,” Mr Sutherland told the forum.

“Secondly, this idea that 40 per cent of the workforce are in insecure employment, well, we have people who have worked with us in different ways for 40 years.

“Interestingly, about a quarter of all casual employees in Australia are students at universities, so they’re not in insecure employment, that’s the employment that suits them while they study.

“If you try to more tightly regulate some of those rules around how that works I think it doesn’t create a great outcome.”

Mr Sutherland also stressed the significance of flexibility within the labour force.

“Flexibility is very important, not only to business but also for a person who wants to have a successful career (and) have a family,” he said.

“If we want to increase the participation rate of women, then flexibility around being able to go through a job – maybe working part-time – is increasingly important.

“I think the arguments around ‘we must change the rules because all those things occur and they’re bad’ is just incorrect.”

Artificial intelligence   

Mr Sutherland responded to concerns about the entry of AI into the workforce, saying he sees it as an opportunity rather than a threat.

“We certainly see that there are things where we think, when dealing with our customers, that technology might mean that a job might not exist,” he said.

“But we also see where the new jobs are being created.”

Mr Sutherland is forecasting a big increase in labour demand within the aged-care sector, as Australia’s ageing population peaks.

“By 2025 there’s going to be 500,000 more people needed to be working in that space because we’re all getting older,” he said.


Mr Sutherland said he gained invaluable experience during his early career when he worked with former Clough Engineering managing director Harold Clough.

“I spent my first six months working with Harold, and what I learned in that time was that you shouldn’t be frightened of making a mistake, what you should be more concerned about is not learning from your mistake,” he said

“If you want to grow in business you definitely have to take some risks, and making a mistake is different to failing.”

Mr Sutherland said gender equity was an issue he had taken a keen interest in.

“If you’ve got any team, diversity of thought is very powerful, that’s the benefit of diversity in any team,” he said.

“I see their (his daughters) lived experience and the insight that gives me is that we still have a long way to go.”




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