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Maharey Speech: Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce

Maharey Speech: Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce

Comments at the Future of Work workshop. Intercontinental Hotel, Wellington.


Good morning and thank you for coming along today to the first Future of Work workshop.

I am pleased the government’s decision to establish a programme examining the future of work has been so well received. At today’s workshop, we have representatives from the business community, voluntary organisations, academia, labour organisations, the regions, and local and central government.

Today’s workshop is an opportunity for an exchange of ideas and to generate ideas about how work can be organised better. My officials from the Department of Labour hope to learn much by listening to the day’s proceedings.

It is my hope that your contributions today will be instrumental in setting the work plan for the Future of Work programme into 2004, and will have positive impacts on the nature of work in New Zealand for may years beyond.

I am confident that each of you will gain insights today that will have direct benefits for you and your organisations.

Importance of work and labour market change

Work is a central aspect of our lives. Not only is paid work the chief source of income for most New Zealanders. It is also a key source of social connectedness and self esteem. Nor can we overlook the contribution of unpaid work to sustaining and strengthening our communities.

Ensuring that New Zealander’s have the opportunity to participate in rewarding, sustainable employment is a fundamental objective of this government.

To achieve this we need to grow an innovative economy that generates opportunities for productive employment and the chance for people to maximise their potential.

We also need to equip our workforce with the capacities to participate in an internationally competitive economy. This includes raising the skills and abilities of those groups most at risk of disadvantage in the labour market.

These challenges are made more complex by the fact that New Zealand’s labour market continues to change rapidly.

New Zealand as a country has become poorer relative to other OECD countries from about the time the United Kingdom entered the European Community in the early 1970s and New Zealand ceased to be Britain’s farm with an automatic market for all we produced.

We have tended to compensate for this drop in relative living standards by working harder and harder year by year to the point where too many New Zealanders are living to work rather than working to live. We cannot continue to do this. We need to become more productive by working smarter rather than working longer.

Technological advances and increasing global engagement mean that the new jobs created over coming years will differ in significant respects from those that exist today.

The sources of job growth are shifting to new industries and occupations. As a result new skills will be demanded, while some of the skills valued highly today will be of diminishing importance in years to come.

New ways of organising production and developments in employment relationships will affect the content and experience of work.

At the same time, the needs and capacities of our workforce are changing as its average age increases and the shape and structure of our society evolves.

Labour market change is unavoidable. In most cases these changes produce welcome benefits. But change can also be disorienting and impose high costs on workers and businesses caught unprepared.

If, however, we have a deeper understanding of the scope for change over the next 10-20 years, people can be better prepared to adapt and manage their lives in ways that minimise the disruptive impacts of change.

Future of Work programme

This is why I established the Future of Work programme.

The future of work programme is about: analysing trends in the way working life is changing, understanding the implications of these changes for the workplace, the workforce, employment opportunities and labour market regulation, and coming up with ideas about how we can organise work so that we can regain control of our working lives in a way that work complements the rest of our life rather than dominates it.

In practical terms the Future of Work programme, and the discussion and debate it stimulates, will provide information that helps individuals and organisations make better decisions about their involvement in work.

For employees this is information that will help them plan their careers – for example: about the nature of future job opportunities, how tomorrow’s jobs will differ from today’s in terms of work content and discretion, and what skills workers may be expected to develop as a result.

Employers will benefit from an understanding of changes in the labour supply. By recognising the implications of emerging workforce demographics, they will better placed to develop strategies for recruitment and retention and workforce development.

An understanding of future work trends will also help the tertiary education sector to equip students with skill sets appropriate to an increasingly knowledge and innovation driven economy.

Importantly, I see the Future of Work programme not merely an exercise in passively forecasting what we think is likely to happen.

We also need to shape the future of work rather than reactively cope with new developments.

As the programme develops, and especially with the input we expect from events such as today’s workshop, this element of the programme will come to the fore.

We should endeavour to develop strategies that leverage the capacity of new technology and changes in our economy to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce and enhance the quality of working lives.

The idea is that people should have control of their work, rather than work controlling people. This means enabling people to adjust their involvement in work according to their individual life-styles.

This is critical not only to increasing the well-being of workers, but also to making productive use of the whole workforce.

The kinds of issues I have in mind are those aspects of the workplace that employers and employees shape through their conduct and expectations on a regular basis, such as work organisation, training and development, employment relationships and the balance between work and family life.

To take one example, it is clear that patterns of work have been moving away from the full-time, lifetime employment model for some time now. Today, more varied patterns of working time are emerging.

Increased flexibility may suit people's living arrangements and lifestyle choices. For example, 75% of those with part-time jobs do not want to work longer hours.

But some are not so fortunate. Casual or temporary workers, in particular, may have little or no control over workplace conditions or hours of work.

A number of workplaces, typically offices, have adopted flexible working hours that enable their employees to meet both their work and their family responsibilities. A challenge to this workshop is to consider innovative approaches to the organisation of working time such as how flexible working hours can become more general through all employment in a way that enables employers’ needs to be met at the same time as giving employees more control over their lives.

For example, should working hours be specified on a weekly, or annual, rather than a daily basis? What are the possibilities of job-sharing or time banking, where people can save time in much the same way as they save money so as to accumulate time they can take off for lifelong learning? To what extent have we rethought how work is organised to take account of the move away from the 40-year career in full-time employment? What are the implications of lifelong employability, rather than lifetime employment, in particular for lifelong learning?

I am looking to policy analysts working on the future of work to come up with ideas that will enable a win-win situation of having a more productive workforce by using people’s skills better (and ensuring people are better skilled) while enabling people to be more in control of their working lives as a key part of their lives.

By evaluating these kinds of ideas the programme can make a real contribution to the evolution of New Zealand’s workplaces.

Aims of the Workshop

Of course, these are multifaceted issues and we don’t have all the answers at our fingertips. Hence today’s workshop.

This workshop provides an opportunity to identify some of the more important questions about work in the future, and our present state of knowledge.

This will hopefully stimulate and provide a focus for research, as well as encouraging a wider debate on the future of work.

A key aim of these workshops is to promote dialogue among policy-makers, academics, educators and people involved in local economic development and the voluntary sector. It is certainly encouraging to have representatives of all these sectors here today.

I see this as vital, because it is in partnership that we can best understand and address the challenges New Zealand’s workforce and economy will face in coming years.

I hope you have a productive and interesting day, and I look forward to hearing about your discussions.

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