NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann: How to prepare our kids for jobs that don't exist (yet)

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Entrepreneurship and creativity - this should be our mantra.
Take computer coding. The idea that we need to teach all our kids to code already seems outdated.
Take computer coding. The idea that we need to teach all our kids to code already seems outdated.

I'm a dad, so most of the worrying I do about New Zealand's economy ultimately comes back to my kids. How are they going to afford to buy a house and what are they going to do for a living?

The Labour Party has been astute in targeting the future of work as one of the fundamentally important issues of our time.

Technology is moving everything so fast that it is hard for adult workers to keep up with change in their own professions let alone imagine how to plan for their children.

It's a real worry and real worries are a rich vein for opposition parties to tap.

Some really good ideas and thought-provoking speeches at Labour's Future of Work conference last week seemed to get overwhelmed by the politics of social change.

This is a regular problem for Labour as it tries to gain traction with a large chunk of middle New Zealand voters.

The idea of a guaranteed universal income got more attention than anything else.

A keynote speaker, US professor Robert Reich, only talked about it in abstract terms, as a potential solution for a world where technologies like 3D printing have rendered work obsolete.

Still it grabbed headlines and was quickly costed into oblivion by political rivals.

Speakers decrying the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the greed of neo-liberal financiers might go down well with the party faithful but they cloud the message for a wider audience.

That's not to dismiss the ideological debate. Addressing inequality is important but the net effect of listening to an academic like the UK's Guy Standing argue that competitiveness is a neo-liberal construct was to make a political fence-sitter like me feel more conservative than I wanted to.

I care about social justice, I'm with Elvis: "People don't you understand, the child needs a helping hand, or he's going to be an angry young man some day."

That's just common sense. And so are many of Labour's "big ideas" like digital equality. Let's make sure every child in every school has access to a computer. We can afford that.

We have to teach children those entrepreneurial talents - sales, marketing and risk assessment.

When it comes to problems like the future of work we can talk about changing the structure of our economy or we can talk about how to equip kids for the structure that is there now.

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and US Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders have made a big splash leaning hard in favour of macro-social change and Andrew Little seems to be enthused by this approach.

I don't claim to know which represents the best political strategy for Labour but I know that specifics of equipping my children's generation for the future are what gets my attention.

Conference speaker Jan Owen was spot on when she made the point that entrepreneurship will be a core skill for today's youth in a casualised, globalised workplace. That's reality.

It is no longer enough just to have a skill in the modern employment market, we have to know how to sell that skill. That might be as a contractor or might just be a means of survival in the constantly restructuring corporate environment.

We have to teach children those entrepreneurial talents - sales, marketing and risk assessment.

Owen also made the point that 90 per cent of jobs will soon have digital components and new skills are required for young people.

But what skills exactly?

Guy Standing was dead right that globalisation has caused a rapid increase in the pace at which skilled labour is commoditised.

I don't agree that it was a neo-liberal plot. I think it was a side-effect of a liberalisation that has delivered huge lifestyle gains to billions of people around the world.

But regardless it is an issue we need to address.

Take computer coding. The idea that we need to teach all our kids to code already seems outdated.

Coding is becoming commodified. We've just seen one of the biggest computer games producers shut down its New Zealand office and move its coding to cheaper third-world markets.

But local developers like Grinding Gears that have retained their intellectual property and developed a model for sharing around the world are going from strength to strength.

We still need to teach coding, but New Zealand's competitive advantage is the creativity of workers we turn out from an education system that encourages kids to think for themselves.

We need to retain and enhance that strength and further develop entrepreneurial talent which doesn't always come naturally to older New Zealanders raised on notions of cradle-to-grave employment.

Entrepreneurship and creativity - this should be our mantra.

The politics of power and inequality may bring social change for the worse or the better. Meanwhile, let's make sure New Zealand children are equipped to adapt.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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NZ Herald business editor at large

Liam Dann is business editor at large at the New Zealand Herald. He has been a journalist for 20 years, covering business for the last 14 of them. He has also worked in the banking sector in London and travelled extensively. His passion is for Markets and Economics, because they are the engine of the New Zealand economy. He hosts The Economy Hub video show every Thursday.

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