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Future of Work - update

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 13 November 2018, 9:42 am

With the latest labour market statistics  showing that the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9%, you might wonder why anyone with bother with a Future of Work Forum, but the Labour Government seems determined to press on with a model that it first developed in opposition.

Minister for Finance Grant Robertson has this week provided an update, reporting on the second meeting of the Forum, which consists of himself, Business NZ CEO Kirk Hope and Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff. A major topic was that old chestnut - technology disruption.

The Forum heard from a McKinsey and NZ Tech, and the Minister summarised the discussion as follows:

"Globally we are seeing a massive growth in technologies that were once considered science fiction - things like robotic surgery, drones, artificial intelligence, cellular agriculture, inductive transfer and autonomous vehicles. All of these technological changes will make us more productive but they are also having significant impacts on the way we work," Grant Robertson says.

One sector that is grappling with the changes is manufacturing. With the term 'Industry 4.0' all the rage in the tech sector this year. Here's the Wikipedia definition, which is as good as any:

Industry 4.0 is a name given to the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing. Industry 4.0 is commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.

Industry 4.0 fosters what has been called a "smart factory". Within modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralised decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real-time both internally and across organizational services offered and used by participants of the value chain.

The term 'Industry 4.0' isn't referenced in Robertson's press release, but it does note that Forum has confirmed $250,000 of funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment towards supporting a Skills Shift in Manufacturing Initiative created and led by the NZ Manufacturers Network.

"A key element of adapting to this change is ensuring that we have the right skills for the future. We need to understand what measures will need to be taken to prevent technological unemployment and the aggravations of serious skills shortages in key industries such as manufacturing," says Wagstaff.

For those unfamiliar with the NZ Manufacturers Network it has, according to its website, been around for 137 years and was previously the NZ Manufacturers and Exporters Association. The first article in its latest newsletter is "Industry 4.0 as an Extension of lean - a local example from Germany", and is a report from the Chief Executive Dieter Adam on its equivalent organisation, called HTT, in Hannover. He notes that by looking at the workshops held by HTT in the past four years there is an "ever closer integration of Lean and Industry 4.0 topics."

"Just as we've come to realise in New Zealand, the group (HTT) sees and treats digital manufacturing technologies simply as 'a next step' in 'making the boat go faster'."




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