New Zealand businesses need to invest in upskilling their workforce to keep up with fast-moving technology or they will fall behind the competition.

Advances in innovation and technology have jumped ahead because of Covid-19 and experts are urging businesses to keep up.

"New Zealand's digital transformation was greatly accelerated during the pandemic," said Ben Morgan, managing director of Accenture, a digital innovation and technology consultancy.

"Change that would have taken a decade will now happen in just a few years - and we're only scratching the surface of the scale and scope of what's possible."

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Morgan said artificial intelligence was poised to change how New Zealanders interact with businesses, manage their finances and their healthcare.

But he said the challenge was tackling the widening gap between those who had adopted new technology and those who hadn't.

Businesses that had already invested in technology were able to adapt to new consumer habits and workforce needs more quickly and effectively.

"When New Zealand first entered lockdown, retailers who already had omni-channel purchasing in place doubled down on their efforts and raced ahead," Morgan said.

"Meanwhile, the laggards – the companies that were partly online but hadn't really invested in the channel - struggled."

Ben Morgan says upskilling workers in fast-moving digital technology will help businesses survive. Photo / Supplied
Ben Morgan says upskilling workers in fast-moving digital technology will help businesses survive. Photo / Supplied

Businesses that adapted quickly and responded to how people purchased goods and services because of Covid-19 survived the first lockdown.

"For business, the message was clear: if you did not have a digital platform in this new era, you would be left behind.

"As the laggards aggressively partner with technology companies to close the gap, the hardest challenge will be to rapidly boost digital knowledge and reskill the New Zealand workforce.

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Morgan also stressed the importance of upskilling the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who had lost jobs during the pandemic.

"When these people return to work it'll largely be in more digitised operations than they left," he said.

It wasn't about training everyone as IT experts but rather making sure people had the right digital skills for their profession.

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Many retail staff would need to be trained to operate e-commerce and inventory channels and primary industry workers such as farmers would increasingly look to data to better understand inputs, yields and emissions.

"New Zealand is geographically isolated country, but one which is famous for leaving its mark on the international stage," Morgan said.

"To future proof our country for the changing nature of work, it is imperative that we invest in upskilling our current and future workforce."

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Businesses, governments, citizens and non-profits each had a critical role in making sure New Zealanders had the right skills and mindsets for future work.

"For too long, New Zealand has noted an emerging digital divide," Morgan said.

"With the future of work now upon us, we cannot leave this skills deficit unaddressed. Leaving our people behind is not an option."