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Building a future-fit workforce

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The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report (2020) anticipates that around 50% of workers globally will need reskilling by 2025. New Zealand’s workers will be no different. However, it appears we are not doing enough to meet the opportunities that are being presented to us. Our workforce is an essential pillar in delivering value for our country, our economy and all New Zealanders. But, we know many traditional jobs will evolve or disappear completely as technology enables greater efficiency and changes the way we work. Our workforce must therefore continually evolve to meet changing environmental, social and economic needs through upskilling, reskilling and expanding our talent pool, or we risk falling behind our global counterparts in the ‘war for talent’.

So, as a nation, how do we refine and upskill our workforce to be fit for the future? 

There are two clear ways: the first is to look at the talent and development potential we have at home and the second is to look at our immigration settings.  

Singapore is a small advanced economy, comparable to New Zealand, that has consistently outperformed its peers by investing in their workforce. They have made it a priority to continually build and refine their in-country workforce, promoting collaboration between government, business and academia to encourage lifelong education and training. 

Singapore’s national initiative, ‘Skillsfuture’, is an example we could draw on. The programme provides its citizens with opportunities to learn throughout life regardless of their starting point (early education, mid-career or post-retirement) in the drive towards an advanced, inclusive society.

New Zealanders appear up to the task, and in PwC’s recent Global Hopes and Fears survey, 77% of New Zealand respondents noted they were ready to learn new skills and retrain, but only 32% said their employers were investing in their skills. 

This is a huge opportunity for businesses. Similar to Singapore we need to encourage businesses, unions, academia and the Government to work better together to promote lifelong learning that engages everyone, no matter their age, skill set or experience.  

For us to grow and sustain a future-fit workforce, we first need to understand the workforce we need to build to meet future demands. Anticipating future needs isn’t an exact science in a world that’s changing at pace, but we can focus on where we put our energies – starting with the sectors and skill sets where we already have the foundations to win. 

Take climate tech as an example. New Zealand is known globally for our natural resources and our desire to look after them. We also have a burgeoning startup ecosystem which, in recent years, has seen an increase in climate-based investing. So, climate tech is an area where we could have the licence to operate, and the credentials to compete for a significant share of the global market. Other areas could include agritech, sustainable technology and medtech/biotech.

Now is the time to develop a national workforce strategy that sets out how we are going to target, skill and retain the talent we need. A national workforce strategy could combine the powers of government, educational institutions, businesses and unions and get them working together to support skills development across all parts of our workforce.

Secondly, complementing an in-country strategy, we need to review, adjust and continually adapt our immigration settings. Recent studies show a decline in New Zealand’s appeal as a destination of choice for expats. But with the right policy settings in place, as part of a national workforce strategy, we will be able to attract and retain talent with the skills we need for a more prosperous future.  

This is an opportunity to build on our reputation as a politically stable and socially progressive society to attract talent from around the world. Australia is already doing it, recently lifting the country’s migration cap by 35,000 to address its current skills gap. We have seen governments over time willing to target specific skilled workers to enter New Zealand. This was evident recently during COVID-19 border restrictions with carve outs made for essential healthcare workers, technology sector workers and shearers.  

The Minister of Finance has indicated that changes to immigration settings are expected to take effect in the next couple of months, with fast visa processing under the Accredited Employer Scheme and further changes due to be announced.

Of course, flexibility is key. Change is ongoing, and creating and nurturing a future-fit workforce is not a one-time fix. This is why sometimes we will get it wrong, and sometimes we will get it right. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be giving it our all. New Zealand has the opportunity to lay the foundations of a national workforce strategy that can evolve and adapt with the world around us. This is an investment that can enable us to compete on the global stage and support the long-term future of all New Zealanders. And it is an investment that we should make.  

Read more about how our workforce can enable greater prosperity in PwC’s latest report: Building prosperity, a pathway to wellbeing for all Aotearoa- www.pwc.co.nz/insights-and-publications/building-prosperity.html

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About Author

Griere Cox

Griere Cox is a partner at PwC New Zealand and supports clients across the public and private sectors to understand current workforce challenges, and plan for future workforce opportunities