Dani Wright finds out how employees can stay within their industries, while reinventing their roles for the future, as Tech Futures Lab launches in Auckland

Education futurist Frances Valintine likes to ask people: "If you lost your job tomorrow and the only place in the world you could go to find work is Silicon Valley, what job would you do?"

It's a question she likes to aim at the average 40-year-old worker, who may be established in a more traditional career, rather than a younger worker who may already be up-to-speed with technology in their job.

"The world of Silicon Valley is just a few years ahead of us, so there will be a very large number of people whose careers will become redundant with around half of the current roles in New Zealand up for automation in the next 10 years," explains Valintine. "Kiwis will need to think about how they could survive in the new world and reinvent how they can contribute to their companies."

To help, Valintine has founded Tech Futures Lab in Newmarket. It aims to prepare professionals for the future by re-tooling them with skills to re-engineer their careers.


"It's a chance to cram a year's worth of university study into one 10-week block where professionals can learn with other professionals, rather than going back to their student days," says Valintine.

There are five programmes: Cybersecurity; Robotics and Automation; Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence; Data Science and Big Data; Business Innovation and Disruption. The cost is $9500, with up to 16 people in each intake for each proramme, a maximum of 80 students at any time.

"The programmes will fast-track the applied learning of some of the most sought-after skill-sets in the world right now, fostering an investment that has the potential to take New Zealand businesses into the future," says Valintine.

She's seeing everyone from construction to banking, legal to medical backgrounds, interested in the programmes. The tutors are a combination of full-time experts with PhDs, as well as a large number of industry leaders as contributors, solidifying the theoretical aspects with practical knowledge.

What's great about the courses is that older workers won't need to completely change industry, because all industries will need technical aspects in the near future.

"We are standing on the beach and the tidal wave is about to hit. No job, sector or industry is immune," says Valintine, explaining that compared with the Industrial Revolution, the change in the Technological Revolution is occurring 10 times faster, at 300 times the scale, with 3000 times the impact.

"The largest New Zealand companies competing in the global market are far more aware of this and the next tier down aren't necessarily going to feel the pinch right away," says Valintine, "but everyone will recognise the need to be more agile in the new world."

It's exhausting to think of the rate of change, but Valintine sees many good things coming as the world adapts.

"The technological changes happening in the world are beneficial," says Valintine. "We're now more educated, healthier, we live longer and in every metric we're in a better world."

There are also a growing number of opportunities taking over from roles that are becoming obsolete.

For example, Valintine says Microsoft recently said 1.5 million data science jobs can't be filled right now, as well as a million cybersecurity jobs.

"Most jobs can be automated," says Valintine. "So, I think it's better working at the end creating the automation, rather than being the one being automated out of a job. It's about being prepared."

As well as Tech Futures Lab, Valintine founded Mind Lab, teaching 40,000 children each year to be more digitally literate, as well as helping teachers lead through a time of change.

"I'm not worried so much about the children's careers as they already have technology figured out, but I do think there's a risk there won't be companies in New Zealand for them to work at," warns Valintine.

"If you want your children employed and staying in New Zealand then we need to create scalable, digital-robust companies for the road ahead now."

However, because the digital technology space has no boundaries or barriers, it may not be as hard as it once was to keep Kiwi talent on home soil.

"The World Bank listed its top 10 innovative countries and six of those were small countries like New Zealand, with around 5-10 million people in them," says Valintine. "Our size should be one of our greatest assets as we move forward."

Workplaces and the way we interact with workmates is also set to be revolutionised, helping workers move out of major cities and increase their lifestyle opportunities.

"Corporations are shrinking and people will have much greater flexibility about where they work," says Valintine.

"It's likely we will be paid on what we contribute - our output - rather than by the hour and the hierarchical model won't be as prevalent. For example, there will be more gender balance. There will also be more intangible businesses - not bricks and mortar - and the resources will be shared, with the platform as the common connection."

She says of the fastest growing companies in the world, more than 90 per cent are now intangible, which bodes well for New Zealand businesses which can tap into knowledge from employees based all over the world.

"We do sit in a bit of a bubble in New Zealand and don't realise how close this change is," warns Valintine. "It's time to get active."

So, rather than sit back and worry where in Silicon Valley you could possibly get a job, arm yourself with technical expertise to take advantage of the immense opportunities out there for individuals wanting to upskill. The future of work holds rich rewards for those willing to change.