Productivity Commission to examine impacts of future technology

The Productivity Commission has launched an inquiry into technological change and the future of work, and has released an issues paper seeking input on four scenarios for considering the future impacts of technological change.

The Commission was asked by the Government to investigate how New Zealand can maximise the opportunities and manage the risks of disruptive technological change and its impact on the future of work and the workforce.

Specifically, the terms of reference seek answers to two questions:

- What are the current and likely future impacts of technological change and disruption on the future of work, the workforce, labour markets, productivity and wellbeing?

- How can the Government better position New Zealand and New Zealanders to take advantage of innovation and technological change in terms of productivity, labour-market participation and the nature of work?

The four scenarios set out in the issues paper are:

More tech more jobs. Technology adoption accelerates in this scenario, and the technologies adopted create more jobs than they replace.

More tech fewer jobs. This scenario, in common with the More tech more jobs scenario, is driven by accelerating technology adoption. However, it differs in that the technology adopted is, overall, labour-replacing.

Stagnation. The pace of technological adoption slows due to declining innovation, as technological bottlenecks prove harder to overcome than expected, or as technology adoption by firms slows, perhaps because newer technologies are less productivity-enhancing for firms than those of the past.

Steady as. In this scenario the technological drivers of labour market change over the next one-to-two decades to stay within the bounds of New Zealand experience over the past one-to-two decades.

In the terms of reference for the enquiry Minister of Finance Grant Robertson said the increasingly pervasive nature of disruptive technologies and the pace of change would create significant opportunities for New Zealand to achieve a productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy.

“However, systemic, rapid change can be daunting and it is important for government to understand and respond to this prospective change so that these opportunities are realised and the risks managed,” he said.

“The opportunities and risks also need to be communicated in a clear and accessible way to New Zealanders. Technology is changing how government interfaces with the public and business, so government needs to be ready to respond to change in an agile and adaptive manner.”

Robertson suggested Commission should break the inquiry down into a series of shorter, related reports, published throughout the term of the inquiry, with a final report summarising findings and providing recommendations.

He suggested these should be:

- A definition of disruption;

- How active labour market policies can assist (or hinder) displaced workers to transition to different types of work and work places;

- How New Zealand's education and training systems can be more effective in enabling adaptation to technological disruption;

- How Government can address the digital divide in New Zealand;

- An identification of how technological change will affect different groups of workers, and appropriate types and levels of support required;

- How the regulatory environment can enable adaptation to change;

- How the Government can best encourage technology innovation and uptake;

- How New Zealand firms can improve their employees' capability to adapt to technological change.

The Commission says it will issue a series of reports for feedback between August and November 2019. Submissions are dude by 5 June and is due to deliver its final report to Government by 31 March 2020.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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