Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Robots could do 46 per cent of NZ jobs

Almost half the jobs in New Zealand may be done by computers and robots in the future, researchers say.

A study by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) has found that 46 per cent of current jobs are at "high risk" of disappearing in the next decade or two.

Most that go will be relatively low-skilled and low-wage jobs. The study found that 78 per cent of labourers and 74 per cent of machine operators, drivers and clerical workers are at high risk.

But some highly skilled jobs are also at risk, including 63 per cent of technicians and trades workers, 24 per cent of managers and 16 per cent of professionals such as accountants.

The NZIER study is based on overseas research estimating the probability of jobs being replaced by computers or robots in the next 10 to 20 years.

But capability is not necessarily destiny. For example, the overseas study says there is a 94 per cent chance that waiters and waitresses will be automated out of existence, perhaps by online ordering and delivery by robots - but diners may still prefer to chat with living human beings.

The study also cites a 97 per cent chance that real estate brokers will be replaced by online transactions, but NZIER deputy director John Ballingall said he "certainly wouldn't buy a house from a robot".

"We are not talking about frontline staffing by robots," he said. "There will always be a place in every occupation for someone who has judgment, who can read body language and [understand] nuances of human communication."

He said the study also looked at only half the story of the future of work, and in practice job losses would be at least partly offset by new kinds of jobs being created.

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He said the most important thing society could do about it was to give people the skills to cope with potentially multiple career changes.

"I have a 9-year-old daughter at school and the things they learn there are completely different to what you and I may have learned," he said. "The education system is already changing to give the workers of tomorrow a set of skills which is generic. That is quite helpful."

Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson said the study showed the need for a debate on "the future of work", which he hopes to kick off at a two-day conference organised by the party in Auckland today and tomorrow.

Software changes firm's focus

Most of Matt Bellingham's clients now use an accounting software program to do their own GST returns - but despite that, his accounting business has doubled in the past four years.

It's no accident that an NZ Institute of Economic Research study on disappearing jobs was commissioned by Chartered Accountants Australia NZ, because software from the likes of MYOB and Xero have done accountants out of much of their role of preparing accounts and tax returns - what the US data calls "tax preparers".

"The tax compliance work, which used to make up 100 per cent of our business, now makes up a touch over 40 per cent," said Mr Bellingham, 45, who co-founded Bellingham Wallace in Parnell in 2012.

"Now they [clients] do the GST themselves.

"The year-end books come in in a pretty reasonable shape, and we have usually kept an eye on them through the year anyway."

Instead, his firm has reinvented itself giving very human business advice that a computer may never replace.

"We'll lock in an annual strategic planning session with the client, which might take a whole day," Mr Bellingham said.

"At the end of that, they have a plan for the current year, and we help them re-set their goals for up to five years. We might sit on their board, often chairing their board. There are no two days the same.

"You watch your clients grow, their businesses do better, they expand, they export, they set up overseas. To be part of all those success stories is inspiring, it's where the passion for my job comes from."

- NZ Herald

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