I do believe so. If you plan on making software testing a career then automation is the way to go. But only after you have learned all you can about test methodologies and QA processes.
By combining these with automation you have a head start.
I think career wise yes automation is becoming important. What worries me is that it is still no subsititute for working smarter. Automation has the disadvantage at potentially working dumber and faster. Where I am working now has all the latest tools, but can't seem to follow a very simple methodology and are severly behind schedule.
australia, the future is smart automation and working with tools and technical elements up the lifecycle. As rtehve says automation for the sake of automation is not a good answer.
The sweep to the agile movement seems to have taken some kind of "buzz" hold from what I saw at the StarWest, though most people are talking Test Driven Development and Unit Test only really in this as if it is a cure all.
Please note that there is a difference between "automation" and "test automation tools". For your CV, it is always nice to add some tools brand names such as WinRunner, SilkTest or LoadRunner. For your everyday automation, ghost, Excel, VBA, Perl and shell scripts may prove to be powerfull automation tools that build a strong test system.
Test automation is becoming a very broad term these days. Originally test automation was just basic scripting. These days it includes a more holistic range of stuff from VB scripting to test management tools such as Test Director. What I think is disappearing is the basics which are far more important.