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The Productivity Commission inquiry will investigate the impact of technological change on the future of work

Productivity Commission to look at technological change and the future of work

The Productivity Commission is calling for input into its next inquiry which will investigate the impact of technological change on the future of work.


The NZ government has asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry 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.

The terms of reference pose two broad questions for the inquiry:

  • • What are the current and likely future impacts of technological change and disruption on the future of work, the workforce, labour markets, productivity and wellbeing?
  • • How can the government better position New Zealand and New Zealanders to take advantage of innovation and technological change in terms of productivity, labour-market participation and the nature of work?
Robotic solutions are already being developed for fruit picking which traditionally has depended on manual labour

In examining the first question, the commission is conscious that it is very difficult to predict how technology will develop, even in the short term, and believes that it would not be useful to predict a single future and offer corresponding policy advice. Rather, this inquiry will develop illustrative scenarios that could play out in the near future.

Future scenarios

These four scenarios will be:

  • • More tech and more jobs – technology adoption will accelerate in a way that creates at least as many jobs as it destroys
  • • More tech and fewer jobs – technology adoption will accelerate and its overall effect will be to replace labour
  • • Stagnation – technology adoption will slow, with less job churn and less change in the nature of work
  • • Steady as – technology adoption and its impact on work will continue at a pace similar to the last two decades.
To address the second question, the commission will examine policies designed to address concerns about the availability and nature of work, and other policies that better position New Zealand to take advantage of innovation and technological change. The commission will assess policies against each scenario. Policies that work in all scenarios might be unconditionally recommended, while others might be conditional on a particular scenario eventuating.

Big changes are coming

The announcement has been welcomed by NZTech, the voice of the New Zealand technology sector. “The future of work and the impact of tech changes are complex issues, so it is fantastic to see the Productivity Commission undertaking such a detailed analysis of the potential opportunities and challenges,” says NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller.

“The rapid growth in artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation is already starting to have an impact on Kiwis’ jobs. We are seeing traditional port jobs being replaced by robotic machines, and New Zealand tech firms like Robotics Plus developing robotic solutions to fruit picking and forestry work. Even white-collar jobs are changing as more business process automation reduces the need for some skills such as bookkeepers.

NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller: “The rapid growth in artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation is already starting to have an impact on Kiwis’ jobs”

“Add to that, the changes in the way we work and communicate thanks to new technologies, and you can sense that big changes are arriving,” says Mr Muller.

“It is impossible to predict the future impacts of so much technological change so the scenario approach that the Productivity Commission is taking is a great way to consider different possible futures. There is no doubt that new technologies are creating new opportunities and new jobs, but the challenge will be ensuring these opportunities are shared across our society.”

How to make a submission to the inquiry

The Productivity Commission is now calling for submissions to the inquiry which will help them gather ideas, opinions and information to ensure that the inquiry is well informed and that its advice is relevant, credible and workable.

Anyone can make a submission. It may be in written, electronic or audio format, and can range from a short note on a single issue to a more substantial document covering many issues. Supporting facts, figures, data, examples and documentation where possible should be included. Every submission is welcome.

For further information on the inquiry, click here

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