Politics

Future of work inquiry terms released

The Government has released the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the future of work, with Finance Minister Grant Robertson saying the rapid change of pace is one of the biggest issues facing the workplace.

The terms of reference for the inquiry, sent to Productivity Commission chairman Murray Sherwin by Robertson, ask it to look into “how New Zealand can maximise the opportunities and manage the risks of disruptive technological change and its impact on the future of work and the workforce”.

“It is difficult to predict exactly what technological change will mean for New Zealand and how widespread disruption will be, but impacts are already being felt in the form of changing business models and some jobs being replaced or transformed by automation.”

The inquiry is not expected to make “detailed, quantified predictions of impacts” given the uncertainty around future technology, but instead “a sense of the nature and relative scale of impacts in different scenarios”.

The commission has been asked to take a long-term focus with recommendations that can be implemented in the short- or medium-term, providing a resource to develop government policies and programmes “that make the most of the technological opportunities on offer and allow New Zealanders to face an uncertain future with confidence”.

Rapid pace of change

Speaking at the Work in Progress conference in Wellington, Robertson said the rapid pace of change in the workplace made undertaking such work more difficult, with one estimate suggesting change was occurring at 10 times the scale and 100 times the pace of the Industrial Revolution.

The report, produced by Labour’s Future of Work Commission while the party was in opposition, was out of date even before it was released, he said.

While work had always changed and evolved, the current situation was different due to the risk that new developments would reduce, rather than add to, the number of jobs available for workers.

The Future of Work Tripartite Forum, set up to bring the Government, business sector and unions together to work on the issue, was already working on four separate areas of potential future change.

“As a child of the 1980s, I will never accept that if you’re going to make big economic shifts, you should click your fingers and do it."

One priority was the concept of “just transitions”, ensuring that planning was done to account for the impact of workplace changes and government policies - such as the decision to ban oil and gas exploration.

“As a child of the 1980s, I will never accept that if you’re going to make big economic shifts, you should click your fingers and do it, because that’s what happened in New Zealand in the 1980s ... I saw the damage done when you switch economic direction without a plan and a process to bring communities with you.”

Robertson said the Government’s work in Taranaki to help the community adjust to the impact of the oil and gas ban would serve as a “pilot” for how to move a workforce along with broader employment changes.

'Conveyor belt' of training

Another “critical” area of work was the concept of lifelong learning, an issue which Robertson was a key part of the Government’s vocational education and training reforms.

“We need workplace training and training that takes place in other settings to be at the core of what we do to make this work - we have to embed it as a normal part of people’s lives.”

Rather than focusing on discrete training for a particular job, it was better to think of “a conveyor belt of training throughout your working life”.

“From time to time, you may step off the training conveyor belt to do some specific jobs, but you will always be training and retraining.”

Robertson said MBIE was working on an “interesting pilot” in the manufacturing sector, based on similar work in Singapore, to map out the infrastructure and skills needs of the industry over the next 20 to 30 years with input from employers.

While the Productivity Commission has until the end of March next year to present its final report, Robertson said the Government had asked it to produce a series of smaller reports throughout the process, given the pace of change in the workplace.

The forum was also working on how to close the “digital divide” and improve business planning for new technologies, as well as improving productivity.

While the Productivity Commission has until the end of March next year to present its final report, Robertson said the Government had asked it to produce a series of smaller reports throughout the process, given the pace of change in the workplace.

Productivity Commission director Judy Kavanagh said the new mandate would allow the organisation to provide recommendations on the likely impact of “rapid technological disruption” and broader changes to the future of work, the workforce, labour markets, productivity and wellbeing.

The body’s recent report on the low-emissions economy highlighted the need to make the most of technology and innovation, Kavanagh said.

The commission would speak to unions, businesses, academics and other interested parties as part of its work, she said.

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