IT key in changing the nature of work

IT is key in tackling New Zealand's lagging productivity problem and in facilitating big changes in the nature of work expected over the next ten to 15 years, says a major Labour Department report.

However, how technology interacts with other factors is complex, which makes it difficult to predict how such changes will come about, says the "Forces for Change in the Future Labour Market of New Zealand" report. But it emphasises that technological advances could help us tackle our pressing productivity problem.

New Zealand lags well behind the US and other OECD countries on productivity, the report says. And a discouraging graph contained in the report shows this clearly, with Ireland going past us in the early 1980s, while Australia and Switzerland, among others, have long operated at a much higher level. There also appears little sign of an upward trend in local productivity.

Much of the recent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) has come from increased employment rather than increased GDP per worker, the Labour Department says. Indeed, academic studies argue that "New Zealand's success in employment may actually be lowering labour productivity indices." Less skilled people taking up lower-paid jobs could be depressing growth indices when it comes to average labour productivity, they argue.

But IT could help change this. As well as creating demand for more skills, IT also delivers better business information, new kinds of work and more flexibility in work patterns, says the report.

"These developments have enhanced the ability of individuals to take advantage of computer technology, while also aiding networking within and across firms, and between customers, producers and service providers.

"While there have been significant advances, some industries, such as transportation, communications and the financial services sectors, have been faster to take up and invest in new computer technologies than others. There remain significant opportunities for other sectors such as farming, forestry and fisheries to make greater use of information technology to improve the quality of their products and the profitability of their ventures."

IT also facilitates "non-standard work arrangements", allowing people to work from home or remote sites, or to combine one or more part-time occupations. But this has downside, as employers may become less willing to provide training to employees who are seen as being less committed to the long term.

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