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What will NZ's workplace of the future look like? We've got the trends.

Ethical job automation, collaborative workplaces and an aging workforce are amongst the trends recruiting firm Hays says will have the greatest impact on New Zealand’s world of work in the next 20 years.

The recruiter, which released its list of predictions to coincide with its 20th anniversary of operations in New Zealand, also identified a people-centric culture and wellbeing, as trends to watch for the next 20 years.

“When we look back over the last 20 years, a dominant feature is the accelerating pace of change, which has brought us automation and AI, hybrid jobs and data-driven decision-making,” explains Adam Shapley, managing director of Hays in New Zealand. 

“Flexible working, workplace diversity and the growing importance on employees’ soft skills have also been key themes," he says.

“Looking ahead, change will remain constant, but it will occur through an ethical lens," Shapley says. 

"Conventional standards of wellness, work-life balance, mental health and diversity will be raised, jobs will be redesigned not eliminated in response to automation and a people-focused culture will see New Zealand become a model for the rest of the world on how to value ethical workplace decisions and wellbeing on equal terms to profit," he explains. 

Hays’s predictions for the key themes that will dominate New Zealand workplaces over the next 20 years include:

1. Ethical job automation

"For several years we’ve been hearing about the threat of robots taking our jobs. Initial headline-grabbing reports warned that we would be replaced by algorithms, but more recent studies show that such findings may be exaggerated," Shapley says. 

"For example, according to McKinsey, less than 5% of occupations will become fully automated but about 60% could see a third of their job tasks automated.

"In the next 20 years, ethical considerations surrounding job automation will be addressed. New Zealand employers will still automate routine and repetitive tasks, but they’ll simultaneously upskill employees to perform the more highly-skilled tasks they are freed to carry out," he says. 

"Meanwhile, workers displaced by automation will see their job redesigned and will in turn be reskilled into a non-routine, varied, valuable and creative role. Employees will also be supported by AI to complete their everyday job tasks. Together, these trends will ultimately help professionals reach their full potential."

2. People-focused culture

Shapley says organisational cultures will become more people-centred, with a focus on retaining people, not jobs. 

"Driven by external factors including the skills shortage and the resulting increased competitive pressure for talent, as well as increasing consumer scrutiny favouring ethical business models, it will soon be just as important for an organisation to be seen to be “doing good” as it is to be “doing well”," he says.

"Employees can expect to benefit through increased flexibility, long-term career development and upskilling opportunities to engage and retain the best talent in a world where an organisation’s people are the single greatest source of competitive advantage."

3. A wellbeing-centric workplace

In May 2019 the first Wellbeing Budget was unveiled, which prioritises mental health and broader living goals. “Today’s budget shows you can be both economically responsible and kind,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the budget was released.

"Looking ahead, the idea that financial prosperity alone is not a sufficient measure of quality of life will ripple through workplaces," says Shapley. 

"Flexible working, unlimited annual leave and practices and workplace wellbeing programmes that allow employees to take better care of themselves will become standard," he says. 

"New Zealand is poised to be a progressive world leader in this area, which may go some way to easing our domestic skill shortage, particularly as people shorten their OE in favour of coming home earlier to work for an organisation that values wellbeing," Shapley explains. 

"The benefit for organisations will be seen in improved staff retention and engagement, thereby enhancing productivity, innovation and ultimately profit. Thus, echoing the 2019 budget, wellbeing can be considered an investment," he says.

4. Non-biased bots will improve diversity outcomes

"Although today in its infancy, over the next 20 years AI technology will develop to the extent that it is able to remove unconscious bias from the recruitment process to improve workplace diversity," says Shapley.

"Organisations have started to experiment in this area, but it remains a work-in-progress since the programmer’s underlying biases can inhibit the technology’s impartiality," he explains.

"Looking ahead, more sophisticated AI solutions will be used extensively to screen job applications to create interview shortlists, in succession planning, in performance appraisals and even when selecting roles for redundancy," Shapley says. 

"Such decisions are currently subjective, prone to the bias of managers. With the data that AI provides, impartial decisions will be made, leading to more diverse and inclusive workplaces. AI-based salary tools will also be used, which will help minimise the gender pay gap."

5. An older workforce

According to Shapley, over the last 20 years, New Zealand’s workforce has been aging. 

"In 1999, the year Hays opened its first office in New Zealand, just 1.5% of the labour force was aged 65 or above, according to Stats NZ," he says.

"In 2039, 20 years from now, it’s projected that 9.8% of the labour force will be aged 65 or above.

"With a strong work ethic, institutional knowledge and life experience, the stigma surrounding ‘grey workers’ will disappear as their participation in the workforce increases and employers and colleagues alike come to understand the benefits of experience," says Shapley. 

"In turn, employers will proactively look to attract, engage and retain mature-age workers in a way that is seldom done today."

6. The gender pay gap will (hopefully) close

"Over the last 20 years, the gender pay gap has been trending down, however it still very much exists," says Shapley. 

"New Zealand’s gender pay gap results from the value placed on the jobs women typically perform and the higher percentage of female primary carers," he explains. 

"In recent years, New Zealand has committed to closing the gender pay gap within all public service agencies by 2020 and there is greater pressure on the private sector to report on and improve pay equity," Shapley says. 

"Looking ahead, greater pay transparency, parental leave equality and the adoption of AI tools in salary decisions to eliminate negotiations and any management or systems bias will help to reduce the pay gap further," he explains. 

"With wellbeing a New Zealand priority, the country is in one of the best positions in the world to close the gender pay gap."

7. Collaborative workplaces

"Over the last 20 years, the unique Kiwi ‘can do’ positive attitude has helped both organisations and careers thrive as we worked towards solutions and got things done," says Shapley.

"Looking ahead, as work becomes more complex and traditional hierarchical structures give way to more cross functional operating models, this ‘can do’ attitude will become even more important," he says. 

"It will allow people to work cross-functionally to collaborate to enrich innovation, creativity, productivity and efficiency. Given the rapidly escalating pace of change in today’s business environment, this will give Kiwis a competitive advantage in a global marketplace," explains Shapley.

8. Battling skill shortages

Shapley says over the last 20 years, New Zealand’s labour supply has consistently failed to meet demand. It’s no surprise that some skills are now in chronically short supply.

"Looking ahead, while it’s hard to see a silver bullet solution to skill shortages, skilled migration will remain a factor as global mobility becomes the norm," he says. 

"So too will a new model of recruitment, which utilises AI and data science to identify the best candidates for each role, regardless of whether they are currently job searching, and pinpoint what will successfully attract and retain each individual candidate," says Shapley.

“Over the last 20 years we’ve certainly seen the recruitment market and world of work develop and experience significant change,” he says.

“But there’s one thing that’s remained the same since we first opened our doors in 1999, and that’s the impact we’ve made on our candidates’ lives," Shapley adds. 

"We’re proud to say we help people succeed and organisations thrive and in doing so we create opportunities and improve lives. That’s something that will never change for us.”