In the last few months I’ve been working on Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development’s (ATEED) Future Ready Summit 2019, pulling together speakers, sending out invitations and overseeing a research project. Stats and figures have taken over my life, which is nothing short of ironic for someone who eats, sleeps and breathes words. 

Here’s some more data:

  • 3 months of planning

  • 16 speakers and 2 panelists

  • 4 excitable school children

  • 1 maverick event facilitator and 1 last minute awe-inspiring chap delivering the mihi

  • 280 people/wok boxes/cups of coffee/chocolate biccies

  • 3 spaces to manage at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau

  • 6 AV operators (including a sound guy with an inability to whisper instructions when people were on the stage talking)

  • 40 young people (and assorted sized branded sweatshirts)

  • 1 campervan (don’t ask)

  • An 83-page research paper

  • An 11-page insights report

  • 2 robots and a sleeping seal

  • 1 partridge in a pear tree

Okay, I’m fibbing about the last one, but as you can see, it’s been a busy time. I’ve been asked to summarise what I have learnt along the way. For starters, if someone offers you a gig organising an event on a topic you know nothing about, run away, very quickly. 

Looking back on the future, it’s been an incredibly steep but exciting learning curve and I can honestly say I now have a more informed and better view on Auckland’s future opportunities. 

Bus to the future

At the start of my future ready journey (getting off the bus and walking into ATEED’s offices), I had been told the organisation had undertaken research to look at Auckland’s future skills needs. Key findings would then be revealed at the Future Ready Summit (insert loud fanfare).

Immediately, I thought bespeckled boffins in white coats would be quizzing businesses about how many robots they ‘employed’ and what futuristic technology had been adopted by the city’s corporates. How many employees would be replaced by automation, AI (which has to be written as AI because in farming terms Ai stands for artificial insemination – who knew?) or robots? I had leapt into a dystopian world that was bleak, hopeless, grey, flat…you catch my drift.

What have I discovered? Forget Blade Runner, The Terminator, Ready Player One. It’s going to be fine. In fact, one of the speakers at the event reassured the entire room with this simple quote ‘We’ve got this.’ But what exactly is this?

Young, talented and growing

The research proved to be more interesting than I had anticipated. The focus isn’t on the bots taking over, but the growth and opportunities across a number of sectors. The underlying cause? Forecasts suggest that Auckland’s ‘relatively youthful and highly skilled population’ is set to increase from its current 1.65m to over two million residents by 2031. The working age population will increase by over 65 per cent (to 1.96m people) over this period. (Small aside), I refuse to put a footnote in a blog. If you want more information, go and have a read of the insights paper – to download the report you have to tick the ‘I’m not a robot’ box, I kid you not!

With a huge growth in population we will need more houses, schools, medical facilities, changes to infrastructure, the list goes on. 200,000 new jobs will be created, with construction and professional services accounting for a 45% total employment growth.

Future of work Auckland infographic

Future Smart

Enough with the figures, here’s my summary of things I think we need to be aware of:

  • Lifelong learning, something I thought was another annoying buzzword. It actually makes sense. If you want to make sure you have a job, you need to be open to upskilling, reskilling and have an enquiring and open mind. Technology is moving at such pace that if you don’t continue to learn, you’ll be left behind.

  • Lots of businesses want to know more about the future. There are many places you can find out about this. Collaboration is the key here with shared learnings and potentially employees sharing their knowledge and working across multiple companies. People talk to each other!

  • Education is paramount. The system is not producing students for the flexible, agile working environments they will be joining over the next decade. A step change in thinking is required to prepare our kids to be future ready. Māori and Pasifika youngsters are without a doubt overlooked, and there clearly needs to be more investment to make sure there is equality across the board. 

  • Many Auckland businesses don’t know how to start preparing for the future, in terms of what new technology to invest in, what equipment is available and what capabilities AI, and automation can offer. Adopting new technologies is not about replacing people with robots, it’s about freeing up employees to focus on more human-centric aspects of their jobs, for example customer service. 

While working on this project I asked a bemused Professor Bruce MacDonald – head honcho at The University of Auckland, Centre for Automation and Robotic Engineering Science – if robots were going to take over the world? He reassuringly told me that we’re only at the very beginning of our journey in understanding what robots can do. He suggested I watch this film from Freethink. I did, and I reckon this future business isn’t so scary, maybe we really have got this.
 

Tāmaki Makaurau is becoming future ready.

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