Businesses need to prepare for technology advances and skills transfer to overcome a chronic labour shortage in New Zealand, says EMA chief executive Brett O'Riley.
He cautions New Zealand is not going to be in a position "where we have enough people to match the number of vacancies."
Says O'Riley: Globally the health sector is short of six million workers. We see 25 per cent of trucks off the road in Australia because they can't find enough drivers. If you look at the demographics, the population in most Western countries is falling.
"Given the indifferent outlook for Europe we might get more interest from that part of the world, but that interest to work in New Zealand currently doesn't exist."
New Zealand needs to transition its growth from units of labour to units of technology and automation for the sake of improving efficiencies and productivity and creating an advanced economy.
O'Riley says examples of technological advances are:
• deploying robotics and artificial intelligence (informed data) into manufacturing and engineering practices;
• automated warehousing and increased contract manufacturing;
• enterprise resource planning software to manage day-to-day business activities such as accounting, procurement, project management, risk management and compliance, and supply chain operations.
"We need the right government incentives and policies to prepare for a technological future. There should be, for example, soft loans or changes to depreciation rules around new plants, hardware and software, and this should include upskilling people to use the equipment."
O'Riley says alongside investment in infrastructure, there needs to be an investment in skills. "We've seen the success of the Apprentice Boost payment programme. It's not the government's responsibility to fund it all but getting people into higher-paid roles goes hand in hand with investment.
"This means not only upskilling employees but also people with the potential to be employed."
He says countries like Singapore, Denmark and Israel have moved to advanced technology and they haven't done that by accident. "We need a signal from our government that it is taking technology and economic transformation seriously.
"It doesn't mean billions of dollars spent in one year, but for people to change the business models they need clear areas of assistance so they can get on with it."
O'Riley cites two technological advances that are changing the face of the workplace.
Halter's solar-powered smart cow collars and app enables heat detection, health monitoring and herd management on the farm. The technology reduces the on-farm workload and combats labour shortages by automating cow movements, creating virtual fencing and optimising pasture growth.
Tauranga-based Sequal Lumber has developed an automated production system that supplies custom-cut radiata pine timber and eliminates waste. Sequal has also built a digital twin that monitors the whole business and provides insights into the production system for the best outcomes.
O'Riley says this sort of technology is providing a fantastic showcase for companies and an opportunity to get them onto the global stage.
"If we invest in a new plant and can't find people to run or maintain it, we need to bring people into the country and train them. We increase the skilled workforce, we develop new technology and we can export it.
"It's a triple win — we can be very deliberate about it by incorporating joined-up thinking," says O'Riley.
Brett O'Riley's top issues
• Shortage of workers and the need for technology to transform business models
• Cost of living crisis particularly food and housing
• A government struggling to manage bloated reform programmes.