What is the future of work and will a robot take your job?
September 23, 2018
A lot of people ask me about whether or not their job will be lost in this push towards the gig economy and until recently I decided to keep a little quiet to see how things would pan out. Also when you’re a talk back radio host on a national commercial radio network I took the view that it was better to ask questions and leave others to be the expert – but I’m out of the cut throat and ruthless business and having spent time at the helm of the oldest and largest employment companies in the world its time to share my view. The answer is yes – many jobs we recognize today will be gone in the push towards further automation, the emergence and use of artificial intelligence and this thing called the gig economy. Although I would tell you in terms of the latter that term of the “gig economy” is something some smart ass from marketing made up to confuse what is actually the ongoing casualization of the workforce – of a move from traditional full time and permanent employment to now part time and casual work.
Here it is – if you are in a role where automation has slowly been creeping into the fold then you will already know the obvious. Bank tellers, for example, have become a very rare species, endangered even. Walk into a Suncrop branch and you are motioned towards an ATM that now does everything for you such as give you money, deposit cheques (haven’t done that in a while) and coins. In supermarkets we all stand politely in those lines where we scan and check out our groceries with one attendant to a cluster of machines watching in case someone codes brown onions instead of avocado. Call centers have been automating for years and in Japan we have whole sushi bars run by robots. Cars are becoming driverless which means even Uber drivers could be a thing of the past and then there is the automation that has been occurring in the car industry for years. Across the mining region of Western Australia driverless trains are plying their trade and drones and blowing stuff up in theatres of war and conflict without the need to put human boots on the ground.
All of this in turn is putting a significant amount of pressure on workers who are low to mid-skilled level which includes a large swathe of our blue collar workforce. Combine that transition where many traditional full time and permanent jobs are falling by the way side and where people are taking on increasingly multiple part time or casual jobs where the hours per day are not nearly enough to keep up with the cost of living and more burden is put on them. A family I spoke with just the other day told me they can get work for four hours between 8am and midday, nothing until 3pm where they need to work until 9pm at night. With three school aged children the burden of work to feed house the family takes priority with family wellbeing playing second chair. They have not had time off for a holiday in seven years and there are signs that there children, while being independent, are missing out. In fact the parents see them as being semi adult once they hit fourteen whereby they can take on more household responsibilities that parents would other wise do if they were present.
So what is the solution to this changing work dynamic?
The first is an honest conversation about what a living wage needs to look like. It’s no longer good enough that we just have a conversation about the minimum wage. The reality is that many people are feeling the burden and pressure of low wage growth versus increasing annual cost of living. This can be seen in the number of families living rough with no place to call home.
Back in 2016 the then Opposition spokesperson, Grant Robertson, formed something called the “Future of Work Commission”. Myself and others played a role by offering insights and guidance and lets be frank it was a great name. Now that Mr. Robertson is a Minister in the very portfolio that was meant to drive the future of work there is no “future of work” as such. He would be well to pluck some money out of the monstrous Ministry of Business, Innovation and the Economy and establish an actual “Future of Work Commission” of business and industry representatives, academia and the social services sector. We need a serious plan to look at what jobs kiwis will and won’t have and what we need to be doing about it.
Expand the portfolio of Minister Willie Jackson and let him loose on a new national program of work about this new future. Some might be tempted to block Willie in as the Minister for Maori Employment but to do so would be misguided. Lets take a hard and honest look at what more could be done with the portfolio and a Minister who has been around the traps for some time in an area of South Auckland where wage growth has been low, social issues endemic and the casualization of the workforce has been ongoing for decades – and that includes the “Future of Work Commission” sitting squarely with him.
In order to prepare for the future we must plan for it – we need to be honest about the jobs that are and will disappear and try and re-engineer some of our sectors where needed, invest in job growth industries and not shy away from taking a few bets on emergent sectors.
About the author: Matthew Tukaki is the Chair of Suicide Prevention Australia, former Chair of Deakin University CSaRO and Australia’s Representative to the United Nations Global Compact. Matthew is currently Chair of New Zealand Maori Council, Auckland District, Chair of the National Maori Authority, a Member of New Zealand Maori Council, Chair of NewsNow and Managing Director of Babana Aboriginal.
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