Barry Soper: Technological revolution will change NZ's job market

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Barry Soper attends Labour's Future of Work Commission conference on how the workforce could look in the future.
Robert Reich. Photo / Danorton, Wikipedia Commons
Robert Reich. Photo / Danorton, Wikipedia Commons

It initially sounded as though it was going to be a bit of a red flag affair, especially when Andrew Little welcomed his comrade from the Aussie unions.

And the first guest speaker, the renown Robert Reich - who's got a string of political and academic credits as long as the Trans Pacific Partnership document that he loathes - could be forgiven for momentarily forgetting which country he was in, referring to this one as Australia. Perhaps he was confused by the flag he saw on the way in from the airport.

And he may have cracked the same joke, as he did when he was here 20 years ago, about knowing when he was out of the Clinton Cabinet when he returned home from Washington and climbed in the back seat of his car only to realise there was no one in the front seat. But he showed Bill Clinton was a forgiving sort of bloke considering Reich claims to have dated Hillary, who would have towered over this tiny man with a big brain when he was at University, but only once.

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But levity aside, Reich was impressive when talking about the challenges faced by the workforce being gobbled up by technology, even outpacing the innovations in education, leaving an ill-prepared employment market. He painted a pretty grim picture of how the technology giants will be making all the money while the rest of us will be left picking up the crumbs, doing menial, poorly paid jobs.

He told the story about how he was recently visited by the head of one of the biggest technology companies in the world who was there to talk about the workforce being replaced by his company's wizardry, and admitting that in the end there'd be few workers left who'd be able to afford what the company was producing.

It was certainly food for thought, just as the current technological revolution has taken a lot of thought, not just out of the food, but of many of the things we take for granted these days.

The nature of how we work today compared to the way it was done, say just ten years ago, the technology that is literally at our fingertips, has set us on a course that the likes of Robert Reich says will see us scrambling for something worthwhile to do.

That is one of the reasons he says a universal wage will have to be considered by governments in the future, paid for by the revenue the technology companies garner to replace our traditional jobs.

All this is the basis for Labour's Future of Work Commission conference being held in Auckland to at least discuss how the workforce could look in the years to come with a view to formulating policy to accommodate it.

Like or dislike the party's ideology, and regardless of your political affiliations, it's an area that can't be ignored.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZME.

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