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Andrea Vance: Jobs on the line as technology makes livelihoods obsolete

Holograms, drones and a thumping drum-and-bass track.

Andrea Vance ONE Voice Source: 1 NEWS

Not what you'd expect from this week's gathering of accountants in Auckland.

But it's the end of the party for their profession.

Seventy per cent of those gathered in Auckland for an annual conference recognise that within a decade, technology will put their livelihoods at risk. 

They are not alone. If you work in transport, production or admin your job probably won't exist within 20 years.

Beyond that, computerisation is on track to replace many white-collar, non-routine roles in engineering, management and science.

Solid Energy has confirmed the Huntly East mine will close. Source: 1 NEWS

A remarkable study by boffins at Oxford's Martin School has estimated that 47 per cent of US jobs are at high-risk because of artificial intelligence.

In June, a report found five million jobs (around 40 per cent of the workforce) in Australia will be replaced by computers within 15 years.

Unless you are a robot, or work at Apple, the future is sobering.

Even more frightening is that no-one is planning for this race against the machine.

Politicians rarely look beyond the three-year electoral cycle.

Self-preservation is possibly why the Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand invited Labour's Grant Robertson to speak to their number on Tuesday.

Robertson is heading up a Future of Work Commission – a research programme that will eventually return policy in time for the 2017 election campaign.

At the moment, it's a talk-fest.

Labour leader Andrew Little has indicated we won't see any new proposals from the party for some time.

Nevertheless, picking through the discussion papers identifies some interesting, nascent ideas.

The driving concern is education. It's clear that children are not being equipped for the workplace. 

Robertson has already floated making the driving test part of the secondary curriculum.

It also seems logical to teach basic coding and provide practical, comprehensive careers advice.

But the project also throws up the question of adult learning.

The country’s best apprentices fought long and hard to be crowned apprentice of the year but many more are needed to match demand. Source: 1 NEWS

Technology is evolving at a breath-taking pace – and it is no longer adequate to only offer education and training at the beginning of a career.

The Danish model of 'flexicurity' gives workers generous benefits and offers training schemes to broaden their skills if they lose their jobs.

Taxes are high, but the labour market is flexible – and gives businesses an edge because they can hire and fire personnel easily.

Until the financial crisis slammed into the Eurozone, this model was credited with slashing unemployment.

The Commission's work will hopefully give Labour something fresh to take to voters in 2017.

In the short-term it is a useful vehicle for finance spokesman Robertson, who is maximising the opportunity to get in front of business audiences.

Long-term it does present some fascinating challenges for the Left. These were first raised in economist Guys Standing's cult book The Precariat.

Standing described a new class of workers – spanning all education and income levels – who rely on flexible and unstable work, often putting in hours they don't get compensated for.

They can make ends meet in the short term, but lack job security and benefits and union protection.

He estimates that in many countries this could make up as much as 45 per cent of the labour force.

Political parties which are pre-occupied with the centre, or "middle" New Zealand, must rethink their ideas about workplace relations, labour protection and welfare provisions.

Interpersonal skills are being emphasised as recruiters predict 40% of jobs that exist now will become obsolete within 20 years. Source: 1 NEWS

Fixed working hours – and even workplaces – will become a thing of the past for many.

Academics preoccupied with this subject are fond of quoting cyberpunk sci-fi writer William Gibson:  "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet."

They recognise this robot dystopia will exacerbate inequality – already a significant problem for New Zealand.

Without fundamental societal shift, power and wealth will be concentrated in the hands of the owners of capital (the machines) and the highly skilled (who can work the machines).

Without policies to introduce and increase high-productivity, skilled jobs back into the economy, the rest of use face a grim future of insecurity and irrelevance.