Office jobs globally are quickly being taken over by new technology but simple measures such as reskilling will prepare workers for the inevitable.

Robots are about to take our jobs, according to a report called "The Future of Jobs", published by the World Economic Forum, which is holding its annual meeting in Davos this week.

Apparently we are entering the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, a time when 3D printing, biotechnology, driverless cars and nanotechnology will reshape the world.

The paper takes results from a survey of 15 major developed and emerging economies covering about 1.9 billion workers, or about 65 per cent of the world's total workforce.

New Zealand wasn't included in the study, but an Asean regional grouping combining Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand was used, as were Australia, the U K and the U S.


From the data, the report predicts that technology-induced unemployment could eliminate 7.1 million jobs in those 15 economies by 2020 with two-thirds of the job losses in the office and administrative sector.

The WEF report is not the only one to predict this trend, with another study entitled "The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?" concluding that machines will swallow 47 per cent of US jobs by the middle of this century.

It's easy to see how quickly this change is happening just by looking at Kiwi success story Xero, whose simple-to-use accounting software lets small businesses take control of their finances. Having grown to more than 500,000 customers in five years, their software is now doing a job that replaces that of a book-keeper in the office.

Other examples include the taxi call centre worker replaced by an Uber app on your phone, and the office travel agent that you no longer visit thanks to the Air New Zealand website making it easy to buy flights online.

With so many changes over the past five years, it's easy to see how uptake of new technologies over the next five could easily disrupt so many other administrative jobs.

The future is not all bleak, though, with a predicted gain of two million jobs for the computer, architecture and engineering fields as skilled workers are needed to build and design this new technology.

As an engineer this is great for my job security, but as a female engineer it concerns me that the upcoming boom is in job sectors that are historically terrible at employing women.

In New Zealand, women make up only 13 per of those employed in the engineering and architecture fields. They make up a much higher percentage in lower skilled industries.

The WEF predicts that at this ratio, women will gain only one new tech job for every 20 non-tech jobs lost, compared to one new tech job for every four lost for men, increasing the workplace gender gap.

Although the predictions may seem alarming and perhaps a bit overestimated, simple measures such as being prepared for a technology- filled future by growing programs providing reskilling and upskilling of today's workers could help New Zealand to be ready for the inevitable.

Dev Academy, a Wellington initiative expanding to Auckland, is a great example of this as it offers short-term, immersive bootcamps which transform people with no experience in IT into full-stack web developers ready for industry in under six months.

Other online courses and community centre programs which teach coding and robotics can also give a basic introduction into the skills needed for the changing workplace. New Zealand has always been a country of smart innovators, making us the perfect incubator for new technology to grow, so if robots are going to take people's jobs then wouldn't it be great if they were made in New Zealand?

• Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science. Tweet her your science questions @medickinson