“Commentators claiming an employment Armageddon is upon us as a result of automation and other digital technologies should ditch their “end is nigh” signs and instead embrace change….This is not to say that preparing the current and future worker for the future will be easy. But the choice between cocooning ourselves in the past and shutting out all the inconvenient noises of change, or embracing a future based on innovation, disruption and using our brains is stark.  The high paying jobs of the future are going to come from the latter approach.”  Alex Malley CE, CPA Australia


How Shift is Happening

“In the early 20th century Henry Ford combined moving assembly lines with mass labour to make building cars much cheaper and quicker—thus turning the automobile from a rich man’s toy into transport for the masses. Today a growing group of entrepreneurs is striving to do the same to services, bringing together computer power with freelance workers to supply luxuries that were once reserved for the wealthy. ”  Economist Report Driving the skills agenda: Preparing students for the future
Because the growth in computing power is exponential, as predicted in Moore’s Law 1965, the rate of entrepreneur-led innovation in all aspects of our lives is also accelerating.

Drones, electric cars, 3d printing, hover boards, augmented reality and virtual reality will all be our collective reality in short order. Developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are all building on and amplifying one another at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution which incorporates and transcends the digital revolution of the last 50 years.

The world of work is changing irrevocably in terms of what is done, where and by whom. It is also changing in terms of a shift from tangible products and services to intangible experiences.

The growth of the services sector of western economies is being followed by a second wave of innovation aimed at tailoring and targeting services for the On Demand economy. Fast-moving technology companies have developed new models that are transforming industries and services which have historically been slow to innovate.

We live in a world of increased connectivity where individuals, communities, governments and businesses are immersed into the virtual world to a much greater extent than ever before and the Internet of Things is fast-growing. At the same time, the world economy is shifting from west to east and from north to south and New Zealand’s population is more diverse and ageing.

The impact of disruptive technologies on Kiwis

“The pace of technological change is accelerating and the upcoming wave of automation may impact jobs and societies as much as occurred in the industrial revolution”.  NZIER Insight 55
In 2015 The Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ) engaged NZIER to carry out research into the way that disruptive technologies might affect Kiwi households. Drawing on the international research, NZIER explored what some of the technological and social changes might look like for New Zealanders: what industries, jobs and regions might be most affected by the changes, and how well placed are we to adapt to them?  The Institute also worked with Colmar Brunton to survey 2,300 New Zealanders on their attitudes to disruptive technology, whether they thought their jobs are at risk and who should be responsible for the training needed for new jobs:
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The Fragmented Future of Work

“Disruptive changes to business models will have a profound impact on the employment landscape over the coming years. Many of the major drivers of transformation currently affecting global industries are expected to have a significant impact on jobs, ranging from significant job creation to job displacement, and from heightened labour productivity to widening skills gaps. In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.”  World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs[1]
The WEF report, subtitled Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, points out that in such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for education and training organisations, businesses, governments and individuals, both to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.

This revolution is not simply an extension of the digital revolution that began in the middle of the last century. It is a fusion of technologies which is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Key drivers are the emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

The revolution is significantly different in terms of the speed of the development, the scope of what is affected, and the impact on systems change.  The Cloud is changing everything from business best practices to government legislation and personal wealth management as cloud solutions help organisations reinvent the work environment.

People are on the move, changing jobs more often and switching careers or taking a portfolio approach to how they earn their living. They are also moving house more often, commuting further to work or working from home and travelling around the world more often.

 In New Zealand the full-time employee, much more often male than female, on an indefinite contract, was the model of work from the end of World War II until the late 1980s. Since then the life expectancy of jobs today has become shorter and shorter and the notion of a sequential career in one occupation, let alone in one organisation, is for many an unattainable goal.


Opportunities and Threats

“Recent discussions about the employment impact of disruptive change have often been polarized between those who foresee limitless opportunities in newly emerging job categories and prospects that improve workers’ productivity and liberate them from routine work, and those that foresee massive labour substitution and displacement of jobs. Both are possible. It is our actions today that will determine whether we head towards massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities.’  WEF FOJ
Work changes bring both opportunities and threats. The future of work brings the obvious risk of increased employment insecurity. More than half of the new jobs in advanced economies since the 1990s have been temporary, part-time or self-employed. By the same token the portfolio economy and self-employment, presents big opportunities not available a generation ago.

The changing economy certainly creates risks for individuals as well as organisations. As business models change, often abruptly because of disruptive technology, people will have to master multiple skills if they are to survive in such a world—and keep those skills up to date.

Embracing Change

“…the choice between cocooning ourselves in the past and shutting out all the inconvenient noises of change, or embracing a future based on innovation, disruption and using our brains is stark.  The high paying jobs of the future are going to come from the latter approach.” Alex Malley CE, CPA Australia
According to Malley human labour is only redundant when it stands still. There is a direct link between a nation’s future prosperity and its ability to leverage innovation and change to improve international competitiveness. Focusing on the downside of technological change deflects debate from the more important topic; how to best take advantage of the opportunities arising from the digital revolution.To embrace the future students of all ages need to learn how to learn and how to unlearn.

Unemployment/ Underemployment?

“… roughly half of all jobs in New Zealand today are at risk of technological displacement over the next few decades.  This includes jobs in sectors that have not traditionally borne the brunt of technological displacement such as financial services, public administration, and scientific and technical services, as well as more repetitive, manual roles…”The risk of job displacement falls more heavily on provincial New Zealand than the cities…It also falls more heavily on men, who are over-represented in at-risk occupations like transport, construction and manufacturing.” 
Around the world, governments, economists, scientists and the media are currently debating the potential impact of automation on unemployment. Approximately 40% of a modern economy’s jobs are at high risk of automation over the next 10-15 years.

This estimate doesn’t account for new job creation. ‘Skill biased technological change’ means that new technologies have caused the employment and incomes of skilled workers to increase. NZIER’s paper quotes  US research which suggests around 500,000 new jobs have been created over the past 15 years in occupations that did not even exist 15 years ago (e.g. computer network specialists, information security analysts or web developers). New Zealand home grown companies such as Xero, Gameloft and Rocket Labs show we are not just fast adopters of technology – we are also able to push the frontier of technological change and create globally competitive new products and services.

Be they manually or cognitively based, routine jobs are well suited to automation. Non-routine work, which requires adaptability or problem solving and creativity, is less exposed to the risk of being taken over by smart machines.

Workers in lower skilled roles, particularly in office, manufacturing and production jobs could be caught up in a vicious cycle where they could face redundancy without significant re-skilling at a time when disruptive change may erode the business case for employers to invest in such reskilling.

Different Job Roles

“None of us could have known, much less pronounce the job descriptions of any of our grandchildren.” John Galbraith, Harvard University
Up to two thirds of new job entrants are getting their first job in roles that will either look very different or be completely lost in the next 10 to 15 years due to automation. Both organisations and individual need to keep abreast of technological and business model changes which affect  occupations and required skill sets and be prepared to re-invest in appropriate upskilling at frequent intervals.

How well is the vocational education system preparing young people for the future of work? It would seem that many young people are not being prepared for the right jobs. Many students are enrolled in fields of study that will be radically affected by automation in the next 10-15 years.  Registration Options…


Learning to Adapt
“It is our actions today that will determine whether we head towards massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities.’ WEF FOJ
Recent discussions about the employment impact of disruptive change have often been polarized between those who foresee limitless opportunities in newly emerging job categories and prospects that improve workers’ productivity and liberate them from routine work, and those that foresee massive labour substitution and displacement of jobs. Both are possible.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report seeks to understand the current and future impact of key disruptions on employment levels, skill sets and recruitment patterns in different industries and countries. “…by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today… Overall, social skills— such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.”

Quantitatively, the numbers of young people not in employment, education or training in New Zealand is the lowest in seven years.  That is an indicator that the push to deal with the country’s chronic skills shortages – and in particular the high numbers of young people leaving school without basic skills – is having some effect but there is still a lot to be done.

Qualitatively, the question is: are they learning the skills they need to adapt to New Zealand’s rapidly changing workplace? These include learning to learn, learning to create and collaborate, learning basic numerously literacy and coding skills and  developing appropriate attitudes and self-management skills.

Ability and Adaptability

“According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Leon C. Megginson 1963
How do learning communities transform from an industrially evolved education model into a new paradigm to a new, critical thinking and digitally-enabled learning and creating one? With different imperatives than private sector business how do they cope with change by being adaptable?

The world of learning is not changing at the same pace as the world of work and the rate of technological disruption. Enterprise is driven by markets, innovation and productivity. Education needs to be a microcosm in the changing world-not an anachronistic time capsule a world apart.

Rethinking the Education System

“Most existing education systems at all levels provide highly siloed training and continue a number of 20th century practices that are hindering progress on today’s talent and labour market issues. Two such legacy issues burdening formal education systems worldwide are the dichotomy between Humanities and Sciences and applied and pure training, on the one hand, and the prestige premium attached to tertiary-certified forms of education—rather than the actual content of learning—on the other hand. Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to imagine what a true 21st century curriculum might look.” WEF FOJ
It is impossible to say what challenges will confront today’s students, or what automated or virtual workplaces of the future will look like. How can education best prepare young people now to navigate their way through an increasingly complex world by becoming effective, lifelong learners capable of responding to relentless change?

In the modern world of both learning and work are not regarded as being confined to a building or an institution. The challenge in New Zealand is to provide ongoing education and informal learning opportunities for all Kiwis of all ages for a connected, digitised new world.

Higher Productivity/More Independence

“The three trends shaping the future of work –automation, globalisation and collaboration –present opportunities as well as risks … In particular they offer the opportunity not only for higher productivity jobs, but also more creative, independent and meaningful employment.’   The New Work Order
The barriers that once prevented people starting their own business are falling, enabling more young people to turn their own innovative ideas into careers. The figure shows that the cost of starting a business around the world has fallen dramatically over the last 10 years as a result of more efficient regulatory regimes and start-up procedures.

Young people survey globally have high levels of confidence about their capacity to create their own jobs and to become entrepreneurs. People of all ages but especially the young will need to become enterprising ongoing portfolio work creators and builders not only job seekers. The CV will need to become a digital repository for examples of what they have achieved not a grab bag of qualifications beyond their use by date.

Keeping up with Technology

“In this new environment, business model change often translates to skill set disruption almost simultaneously and with only a minimal time lag… Across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes is shortening the shelf-life of employees’ existing skill sets.”  WEF Report The Future of Jobs
Technology is transforming teaching and learning, but education systems are struggling to keep up with the transformation let alone lead it. The Economist survey shows that teachers recognise this as a gap—digital literacy is one of the areas (31%) where they would most like to see further training.

Other stakeholders would agree. Only 23% of 18-25-year-olds think that their country’s education system is very effective at making full use of the technologies now available. Similarly, just 28% of younger students think that their school is very good at using technology in lessons. A majority of teachers (58%) say their students have a more advanced understanding of technology in their classrooms than they do—an inevitable consequence of the pace of change, but which need not mean that, given the correct training, teachers cannot add value through effective use of technology.
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Hard Facts and Soft Skills

“Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.”  The 2015 World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs
At all levels students need regular opportunities for experiential learning and skills development that mirrors real-world team problem solving and project achievement in response to rapidly changing challenges.

As technology becomes more pervasive, traditional trades disappear and the world of work becomes more globalised, interconnected and collaborative, the skills demanded by employers are shifting.

What Employers Want

“Workplaces are becoming more team- oriented….It’s about understanding how to pool resources and work together. We need to build a curriculum where students can learn to work together—to be responsive to the group, look at their own strengths and weaknesses and those of others and adjust their own behaviour accordingly.” Patrick Griffin, chair of Education (Assessment) at the University of Melbourne.
A majority of employers in the Economist global survey expect creativity (58%) and digital literacy (57%) to grow in importance in the next three years. Education systems are not providing enough of the skills that students and the workplace need.

Only 34% of executives report that they are satisfied with the level of attainment of young people entering their companies. Even more striking, 52% confirm that a skills gap is hampering their organisation’s performance. Older students and those entering the workforce paint a similar picture: among 18-25-year-olds, less than half (44%) believe that their education system is providing them with the skills that they need to enter the country’s workforce.

Teachers recognise that companies are unhappy with educational standards: only 40% believe that businesses in their country are satisfied with the attainment of students entering the job market, a figure comparable with that of employers themselves. Part of the problem may simply be that many education systems lack the capacity to teach a wider range of skills.

Driving the Skills Agenda

“There is a disconnect between the demand-side and the supply-side of skills.” Mmantsetsa Marope, director of the International Bureau of Education, UNESCO
A 2015 Economist Intelligence Unit report, sponsored by Google Driving the skills agenda: Preparing students for the future[1] shows how evolving business needs, technological advances and new work structures are redefining what are considered to be valuable skills for the future.

The surveys undertaken to inform the Economist report cover the following list of skills: Literacy, Numeracy, Foreign-language skills , Problem solving, Leadership, Team working , Communication , Critical thinking, Creativity, Digital literacy, Emotional intelligence and Entrepreneurship.

21st Century Skills

“Teachers need to understand that these are not taught skills but modelled skills,” Brian Schreuder, deputy director- general, Curriculum and Assessment Management, Western Cape Education Department.
The EIU’s extensive research programme examined to what extent the skills taught in education systems around the world are changing. For example, are so-called 21st-century skills, such as leadership, digital literacy, problem solving and communication complementing traditional skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic? Do they meet the needs of employers and society more adequately?

The term “21st-century skills” has gained increasing currency as a reflection both of changing workplace needs and the evolving role of education. As an umbrella term, it combines the idea that the demands of the 21st century are sufficiently distinct from those of the previous century to make educational reform a necessity, and the belief that instant access to information and the speed at which that information dates have rendered a knowledge-based education system obsolete.

The Knowledge/Skills Mix

“Communication and collaboration are essential in a list of 21st- century skills; so much of work in the future will require things to be done across boundaries.” Sean Rush, CEO JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide
How do you judge the right skill mix for the future? To what extent are the skills taught in education systems around the world changing? Are so-called 21st-century skills, such as leadership, teamwork, digital literacy, problem solving and communication, complementing traditional skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic? Do they meet the needs of employers and society more widely? How well can non-cognitive skills be assessed compared to cognitive functions?

However, too heavy an emphasis on skills as opposed to knowledge and content is not helpful. Skills don’t exist in a vacuum. Though they may be transferable skills are also highly context-dependent and may require the acquisition of a substantial level of knowledge in a particular field as well as an ability to use critical thinking to solve problems.

Embedding Skills

“The best way to teach 21st-century skills is to embed them in various aspects of the curriculum,” Sean Rush, CEO JA (Junior Achievement) Worldwide
21st-century skills cannot be taught in isolation. In order to be effective, they must be integrated into every subject area, not bolted on as additional subjects, so that skills development becomes inseparable from knowledge sharing. Learning how to creatively collaborate with others is the key.

To be work ready students need to understand deadlines, to be able to work under pressure, to prioritise. They also need ongoing opportunities to gain experience of public speaking, networking, multimedia production and non-digital creative pursuits in music and the arts.

Contextualisng Problem Solving

“The school systems that manage to embed problem solving in the curriculum combine real- world contexts with information, for example using maths and science to solve practical problems rather than abstract ones,…Good school systems do this as early as pre-school— everything which we used to learn in theoretical terms is contextualised.” Emiliana Vegas, Education Division, Inter-American Development Bank
Teachers, students and executives surveyed for the EIU report all list problem solving as the most important skill for students’ future. This emphasis is most pronounced among executives, fully 50% of whom place it at the top of the list for potential employees, while 70% expect its importance to increase over the next three years.

Critical Thinking

“One of the problems with the education sphere is that it swings from packing students with knowledge and not much in the way of skills to the other way round—all about skills, and knowledge can come from the Internet….I’d put critical thinking up there as one of the most important skills we should be teaching, but you can’t think critically without something to think about.” Sir John Daniel, DeTao Masters Academy, Beijing
Critical thinking skills can, of course, be developed in a number of ways across the sciences and humanities, particularly literature, history and philosophy. Thinking about thinking and understanding different modes of thinking is not, as it should be, literally top of the mind in learning at all levels. Critical thinking requires time and application that some would say is not compatible with our 24/7 always on fragmented digital world divided up into Twitter word bites and mobile device text sound and video bites.

Modern Learning and Earning Environments

“The 20th- century classroom was designed with a very teacher-centric approach to education. If you want 21st-century skills, you need a 21st- century learning environment which encourages team-based learning and discussion.” Professor Lee Sing Kong, director of the National Institute of Education, Singapore
Most New Zealand schools are now connected up to ultra-fast broadband (UFB) and the Network for Learning (N4L) managed network, but how can they translate their digital capabilities into student gains? The key is a revalued culture of learning as others have identified.

Undergoing a big change since the start of this century, the Singapore education system aims to deliver more skillful teaching and more sustained student engagement, with the emphasis on being able to apply, rather than absorb, knowledge. To this end, individual schools have been given greater autonomy over how they teach, designing their own curriculums in line with agreed national strategies.

The New Zealand curriculum gives schools even greater autonomy, but the missing dimension is perhaps the sense of social and economic direction more clearly articulated in Singapore.

However, the Singapore example is still salutary: if a country whose focus has been so habitually test-based can decide to reprioritise in terms of creating a more innovative culture and productive economy then this offers food for thought for others.

Our Children will Create the Future

“We always think that what we have today is what our children will live with tomorrow… But our children will create the future. We need to train people to have the creativity to reinterpret the world.”  Yong Zhao, Director of the University of Oregon’s Institute for Global and online Education.
Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow blames a form of mental laziness called the “affect heuristic” “on our tendency to extrapolate our past into our future. What we need to do is to reinterpret the world through new lenses not extrapolate the future from our past experiences and present perceptions.

As proponents of 21st-century skills point out, we have no way of knowing what challenges tomorrow’s graduates will face, and still less what jobs will exist for them to apply for. The best education can hope to do is to equip students with sufficiently transferable skills to be able to respond to whatever the future holds.

To contribute to social and economic progress the new generation and help them navigate their own futures young people will need to learn the skills to be digitally-literate beyond device dexterity, to be financially-savvy, innovative and adaptable.

The barriers to entrepreneurship are falling, with technology and globalisation making it easier and cheaper to start your own business or share in an online work platform.  Registration Options…

[1] Driving the skills agenda: Preparing students for the future The Economist  go to:



The Ministry of Education’s two relevant work streams are