An opinion piece by RERISK CEO Jaqueline Outram

 

There’s been claims in the media recently about the Pilbara being the new Silicon Valley. I suspect Google, Apple, Tesla and numerous other high-tech corporations headquartered in Silicon Valley would have something to say about those claims. Much more importantly, however, I question why the Pilbara would want to be the new Silicon Valley when its uniqueness affords an opportunity to become something much more authentic, yet equally game-changing. 

 

Yes, weekly incomes are high in Silicon Valley, but money doesn’t stretch very far when you live in one of the world’s most expensive locations. To curb these living costs residents are living further and further away from their workplace and this trend is increasing local traffic congestion. As a result, Silicon Valley now has the highest proportion of ‘super commuters’ in the US – workers that commute more than 90 minutes between home and office, each way and every day. 

 

There’s not a lot of traffic congestion in the Pilbara, but there is a lot of in-field workers. Some believe our in-field workers will soon be replaced by robots, but that’s simply not true. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute recently concluded office-based and other indoor jobs were more likely to be automated first, whilst the demand for in-field workers would continue to grow until at least 2030. Not reduce; not stabilise; continue to grow. 

 

In short, the speed at which work can be automated depends on the stability of two key factors – the work tasks that must be performed and the environment within which they must be performed. Work tasks that are dynamic (involving ad hoc, impromptu, improvised or creative effort) are far more difficult to automate. 

 

At the same time, simple, repetitive work tasks are equally difficult to automate if they must be performed in dynamic environments. 

 

Therein lies the Pilbara’s unique and immediate potential. Our in-field workers regularly (if not largely) perform highly dynamic tasks in some of the world’s most dynamic and sometimes unpredictable work environments. Their jobs will most likely be the last to be automated, so in the meantime we can solve the safety and efficiency problems they experience every day by developing solutions that are transferable to the rest of the world. If we do this well, we could help in-field workers become so safe and efficient that automating their jobs becomes less attractive, perhaps even unattractive. Imagine that. 

 

Whilst this idea may sound like a futuristic tale for technologists, it was actually started in 2011 by a small group of in-field workers at RePipe, a Pilbara-based plumbing and civil contracting business owned by my family. 

 

After years of local design, development and testing, we launched the world’s first and only technology that supports in-field workers to safely and efficiently perform dynamic tasks in dynamic work environments. The technology, called rerisk, has international patents pending on more than 100 claims of invention and won Australian Mining Monthly’s 2019 Future of Mining Safety Award in March. 

 

The technology is a success because we sought to solve a problem we experienced every day, so we understood the problem better than anyone else in the world, including Silicon Valley.