Watch repairs and artificial intelligence may sound like worlds apart when it comes to work but Emily Winstanley finds growth is on the horizon for traditional industries as well as those of the future
Just a few years ago, social media wasn't something that needed "managing". Phones didn't have apps; they ran on a cable coming out of the wall. And getting into an unmarked car with a stranger was frowned upon, rather than how you get home after a night out. Social media managers, app designers and ride-share drivers are all relatively new jobs.
If you take a look at old census records, you're reminded how different the job market used to look. In 1966, there was a special category for "clergy" and multiple options for people who worked in shipping. There were 12,675 bricklayers, plasterers and construction workers – only one of those was a woman. There were 2101 people calling themselves precision instrument-makers, watchmakers and jewellers. By 2013, that number had roughly halved.
But that's not to say jobs like that have disappeared altogether. Rowan Pilbrow is a third-generation watchmaker in Taupo. His grandfather and father both started their working lives in Gisborne.
"Dad said when he started there were eight or nine different watchmaking businesses there, all of them with multiple watchmakers. Now there's none."
In the almost 20 years he's been doing the job, Pilbrow's also seen a huge decrease in the number of watchmakers around. He says the decline began in the 1970s, when battery-powered watches first came out. Concerned it was a dying art, people weren't taking on apprentices and many left the industry altogether. Things have picked up since, recently the growth in smart watches has introduced the idea of watch-wearing to a whole new group of people.
But Pilbrow says an entire generation has stayed out of the industry, which has kept the number of watchmakers very low.
"There's a lot of people retiring and there are very few people left to take over the gap. Now, we can't keep up with the amount of work coming in. There's six of us here, I work seven days a week. I was here 'til 2 this morning. We're absolutely swamped."
Clothing and footwear manufacturing is another group of industries that have seen a huge reduction. David McKinlay knows all about that. He believes his family business, McKinlay Shoes, is the last shoe manufacturer of its kind in New Zealand. It's been operating in Dunedin for almost 140 years, currently by fifth-generation owners David and his brother, Graeme.
"I still think there's certainly a viable business here in the long term but it might be very different to what we're doing today. If you look at the last 25 years of what we've done in this factory, it's been turned on its head probably six or seven times. We've got about 20 staff now, in the 80s we probably had 40-something," he says. "So our production over the past 20 years has certainly decreased but at the same time we've had to get smarter."
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They way they make shoes hasn't changed much over the years but their traditional business is helped by a non-traditional marketing method: social media.
"We've had a revival of 'Buy New Zealand made'. We've also had generation after generation of people who've worn our shoes. People put their children in McKinlay's because that's what they wore when they were a child. In the past four or five years we're certainly seeing social media help with awareness in that sense."
The core of their business is school shoes but the brothers also do specialised orthotic work and produce shoes for the movie industry. They try to buy a few new pieces of machinery a year. "There are positives or we wouldn't be investing money for the future."
Careers consultant Lee Brodie has watched the job market change with great interest. Brodie's not only seeing job changes impact clients but also her own family.
"My daughter and her husband are furniture designers and manufacturers and they're literally are at the end of their tether finding an upholsterer, because there are hardly any left."
Simon Barker, director of SIBA design, is one of those few upholsterers still around. He's well aware of the shrinking number, because he is flat out and struggles to find staff. He's seen people's attitudes to their furniture change over time.
"Re-upholstering used to be something people did all the time, a broad spectrum of people, whereas now it's people who are fairly wealthy getting upholstery done. At Freedom Furniture, for example, you can buy sofas for $800. We can't even get the fabric for that price. It's definitely changed the industry."
Brodie often sees clients who find their occupation contracting or even disappearing before their eyes. And it's not necessarily the jobs you'd immediately think of. Banking, administration jobs and insurance are all industries she sees as being at risk. She thinks a significant loss of demand for accountants is coming.
"There will be people at the bottom who do the stuff like sticking the data into the computer and people at the top taking a strategic look and making interpretations. But what we're losing are those well-paying jobs in the middle. Those jobs have literally disappeared."
She's seeing a similar issue happen in the legal profession.
"If you ask a junior lawyer to draft a document, they will start from scratch. But if you type that requirement into a search engine, find your best practice document, put in your variables and you'll get an accurate document. That kind of thing cuts the middle out of professions."
On the other end of the scale, she's created a list of professions that are growing, including 3D printing, robotics and content writers. Also on her list is people working in AI. That's something that co-founder of AI company Soul Machines, Greg Cross, knows all about. He describes himself as a "tech entrepreneur".
The business has created a model of a brain, which helps them to animate autonomous digital characters – so Cross is working in an industry that barely even existed when he left Auckland Grammar.
"This was in the late 70s. So the tech industry, which is one of the biggest, most valuable industries in the world, didn't really exist when my career started; IT was tiny. That in itself shows how industries and jobs have changed so much."
Cross says we're entering an era where technology means the changes in jobs will start to accelerate quite quickly during the next 10 years. He predicts new technologies will have a massive impact on pretty much all of our large industries, regardless of what you do. For example, car mechanics.
"In 10 years, we're going to see a move away from the combustion engine. Electric vehicles have far fewer moving parts than combustion engines, so the number of mechanics required to service them is going to change dramatically."
But rather than a threat, he sees the changes as an opportunity.
"There's a lot of discussion about the fact robots are coming and they're going to steal our jobs. But the simple reality, is there are many jobs that we, as humans, are already choosing that we don't want to do."
Robotics Plus is one company looking into just that. The Tauranga-based company builds "autonomous robot systems" for the food and fibre industries. So far, that means a robot that can "see" apples, turn them the right way round and pack them into trays. They've got a robot that can scan and measure the volume of logs being exported and they're also looking into unmanned vehicles for doing work like spraying and mowing on orchards and farms.
Chief executive Dr Matt Glenn has been with the company since June. When he started, there were around 12 staff and now there are more than 50. He says one of the biggest issues they see in agriculture at the moment is that there's an enormous shortage of people prepared to do work that's described as "dirty, dull and dangerous". He believes robotics is going to be a big revolution.
"How is New Zealand going to deal with that? It's hard to say. We have the intellectual horsepower here and the entrepreneurial spirit. We have the opportunities there, time will tell whether we take the opportunity or not."
He thinks we should also be having a conversation about the impact things like robotics and AI will have on the jobs that are going to be available.
"Certainly our focus is on removing those dirty, dull and dangerous jobs but there's going to be other sorts of work that may well disappear."
At Soul Machines, Cross is positive about this change in the jobs market, saying we're at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution. He says during the last revolution, electricity arrived, which saw many jobs and industries lost.
"But during that era, we eliminated child slave labour in our factories. During that era we created the public education systems we have today. So change is not always about looking at the bad things that happen. Change is about looking at the opportunities it creates, and the fundamentally positive changes it brings to society as well."
So, what job should you do if you're still afraid of that change? Brodie says there's no occupation that is immune to industry change.
"Well, almost none, except hairdressers. Hairdressers were in demand when I was a kid, those jobs still exist and haven't changed that much. They raise their prices and we don't flutter an eyelid."