Ideas from our Future of Work Conference

The Future of Work Commission’s recent conference on the issues facing New Zealand from the changing nature of work. raised a wide range of issues to address and opportunities to grasp. A summary of the key ideas and solutions from that conference are below.


In my opening address to the conference I pointed out the McKinsey’s study that suggests we are experiencing technological change at a rate thirty times that of the industrial revolution.  I also launched our Ten Big Ideas document which represents a snapshot of our consultation in the first year of the Future of Work Commission’s programme (see below.)

Some of the changes have already been having an impact and our first keynote speaker Robert Reich pointed out New Zealand has followed the trend of the US towards inequality, stagnant median incomes, and growing unemployment. The top three trends he identified as causing this are globalisation particularly direct investment, that the rate of technological displacement is rising, and changes in capital markets which have seen companies place a greater emphasis on prioritising shareholder profit.

Prof Reich highlighted that if these current trends continue employees will end up in a spot market for labour where they have no security or predictability. It also could mean the trend towards technology that produces everything but there is no one left to buy it because they don’t have jobs.

These were issues picked up in particular by our second keynote speaker Guy Standing. Standing highlighted the rising inequality the world faces as the share of wealth going to labour decreases and that going to intellectual property increases. He also highlighted the increased insecurity caused by the current economic trends. This has led to a new class of worker beginning to emerge: the precariat. This group of vulnerable workers have none of the security that previous generations of workers had but are increasingly in demand from employers. Tackling the rise of the precariat and ensuring their rights are protected will be one of the key challenges for the future of work.

Jan Owen the first keynote speaker from the second day highlighted a similar set of trends affecting young people today in the future of work: automation, globalisation, and flexibility. The consequence of this is that young people today are the first to be the worse off than their parents with higher unemployment, greater debt, and a gap of nearly five years between completing their education and getting full time work in their chosen field. Young people will also need to be far more adaptable to changes in jobs with the average young person today expected to hold 17 jobs in 5 different industries over the course of their life.

Our fourth keynote speaker Göran Roos covered off the trends in job changes that will affect future careers. Whilst the service industry has historically had dramatically less productivity than other sectors like manufacturing this is in the process of change. This increase in productivity will lead to jobs in the service industries disappearing at an unprecedented rate. As well as the churn in jobs this will create it will mean jobs in the middle of skill spectrum will reduce while demand for jobs at the low and high end of the skill spectrum will increase. Unless workers from the middle skill spectrum are retrained for those high skill roles they will put downward pressure on wages at the low end while wages at the top rise due to skill shortages. These changes will also dramatically affect countries wellbeing. Those countries which have the greatest economic complexity are those which are likely to do best out of the changes and this is where governments will need to push towards.

Our panels also highlighted a number of the important trends. Nina Sochon covered the rise in flexible working conditions for workers with 1.3 billion people worldwide engaged in it. Despite the worldwide growth in flexible work few New Zealanders are taking advantage of it with only 12% of our workforce engaged in it. Gail Pacheo of Auckland University of Technology raised the high number of temporary workers in New Zealand and the negative impact that this can have on wages and their wellbeing. Jane Bryson also pointed out what workers want from their jobs has not changed: security & safety, skills, relationships, recognition, and autonomy.

Frances Valentine covered the changes occurring from increased digital literacy as the under 13s coming through today emerge with a digital literacy beyond any earlier generation. She also raised that while half the world does not currently have internet coverage this could dramatically change within the next two years as most of them look likely to gain access.

Rachel Brown from the Sustainable Business Network also highlighted the growing challenge from climate change and the need to ensure that our businesses are genuinely sustainable. Finally economist Shamubeel Eaqub raised how we are moving down a two track mode of development which is leaving the regions behind.


CTU President Richard Wagstaff summarised it well that while we don’t know exactly what will happen in the future we still need to have an active approach to ensure a just transition. As Andrew Little raised in his opening to the conference out challenge through the coming changes is to ensure no person is left out and left behind.

In my speech to the conference I set out our ten big ideas from our consultation to date to get us through the struggle:

  1. Building digital equality – through ensuring Kiwis can access technology regardless of where they live or how wealthy they are.
  2. Accelerating technology in business – through developing new models of capital raising and investing in research and development.
  3. Developing Business Clusters – by creating regional partnerships of business, councils, research organisations and iwi to get the best out of local and emerging industries.
  4. Building wealth from the ground up – by encouraging new models of business, including entrepreneurship and cooperatives to create a more sustainable economy.
  5. Establishing a just transition – through creating a social partnership model and strong and flexible social and re-training programmes.
  6. Ensuring greater income security – through investigation of new models of income security for New Zealand, including considering a limited trial of a universal basic income-type system in a town or region.
  7. Reforming the transition between education, training and work – through comprehensive reform of career guidance and creating a school leavers’ toolkit to prepare them for the practical requirements of work.
  8. Labour’s Working Futures Plan – in which all New Zealanders receive three free years of post-school education, phased in from 2019.
  9. Partnering with Maori in a post-Treaty settlement era – through the Government facilitating strategic partnerships between iwi, business, and third parties to develop the Maori economy.
  10. Establishing a Pasifika working futures plan – by working with the community to focus on the transition between education and work and identifying and eliminating the barriers to entrepreneurship.

A number of our speakers also raised their own solutions:

  • Education was raised again and again as a major component in a fair and prosperous future of work, specifically,
    • The need for post-school education to be free
    • The importance engaging more people into trades and technical training
    • The need to improve careers guidance and for a comprehensive career development policy
    • The need for a lifelong learning approach
    • The need for a broader range of high quality pathways between education and work
    • Jan Owen and Matthew Tukaki called for more support for entrepreneurship education
    • Phil Doak from Air New Zealand and Kelvin Ellis from E Tū raised the huge gains made at Air New Zealand by adopting a High Performance Engagement model of collaboration
    • Several speakers raised the prospect of a Universal Basic Income
    • Guy Standing set out his recommendations from the Precariat Charter
    • Geoff Hunt from Hawkins Construction recommended the Government require in tender contracts that 10% of workers be in formal training programmes.
    • Robert Reich recommended international tax treaties to ensure multi-national companies pay their fair share and wage supplements and higher minimum wages to counteract downward pressure on wages
    • Several speakers recommended increasing the taxation on emissions to help prevent climate change
    • Scott Millar from Volunteering NZ raised the need to better recognise volunteers, safeguard volunteers from exploitation, and fully commit to the 2030 sustainable development goals
    • Gland Cleland from the Disability Employment Forum recommended the Government adopt an employment strategy for disabled people rather than a welfare strategy
    • Erin Polaczuk called for a proactive Government  approach to address the root causes of unequal pay between men and women and proposed a number of steps to achieve it
    • Damon Salesa raised the options to ensure equal support for Pasifika in education
    • Hinerangi Raumati raised the need to support the existing Maori economy to grow and diversify while upskilling and retraining urban Maori in areas like South Auckland so they can participate in the new economy

The Future of Work Commission will continue to look at these ideas and others as we progress towards our final report at the end of this year. If you have any other ideas to contribute please submit to the Commission here or email us at

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