Expect radical shift in Labour economic policy

Labour’s finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says we can expect a radical shift in Labour’s economic policy.

A cynic could suggest a radical shift towards common sense would be welcome, but voters tend to be very wary of radical policy suggestions from those who could follow through with them.

Can we also expect a radical shift in primary and secondary education policy?

NZ Herald reports Expect radical changes to economic policy, says Robertson.

Grant Robertson says New Zealanders can expect a radical shift in the Labour Party’s economic policy ahead of the 2017 election as his party looks to prepare workers for huge changes in the labour market in coming decades.

Mr Robertson is in Paris for the OECD’s Future of Work Forum, where politicians, businesspeople and unions are discussing how to adapt to the digital economy and the increasing casualisation of the workforce.

The shadow finance and employment minister is seeking ideas for his Future of Work Commission, a two-year project which will inform Labour’s new economic development policies.

“If we look ahead two decades, there will be enormous change,” he told the Herald from Paris. “Up to half of the jobs in the economy today won’t be there.”

That is because blue- and white-collar jobs are being lost to robotics, automisation and computerisation.

The working environment is becoming more flexible, and people are more likely to have several different career paths over their lifetime.

Mr Robertson said addressing these changes would mean a radical change of direction for his party.

“I do think there will be some big shifts because that reflects the magnitude of the change that is happening,” he said.

The nature of work in New Zealand and around the world has already changed enormously over the past fifty years.

Labour’s Future of Work commission is a good medium term project, focusing on what should be a core policy area for them, labour. It’s the sort of thing that should be done by parties while in Opposition – Labour should have started this sort of thing six years earlier but now is better than going nowhere.

Of course the benefits to Labour and to the country will depend on the quality of the findings of their Commission. Hopefully they will be useful to all parties in looking ahead.

Mr Robertson said New Zealand already had a flexible labour market, but it needed to be balanced with greater security and income support.

“Obviously you can’t take a model and replicate it from one country to another. It’s the principles of it that we are looking at and how something similar could be put in place in New Zealand.”

A less certain working environment meant workers would have to upskill or retrain throughout their careers, Mr Robertson said.

“The idea that you can leave school or go to university and you never have to do anything else is gone now. Whatever system we come up with needs to be linked to the idea that training is an automatic part of your working life.”

Rethinking the amount of upfront tertiary education compared to ongoing training and retraining parallel to careers – most people can now expect to change careers several times through their working lives – is important.

It’s impractical to spend 3-6 years getting degrees and then having to repeat every decade or so.

A good academic grounding is very useful but being able to duck in and out of education or training is becoming essential in many fields of work.

Preparing New Zealanders for the changing workforce will have to begin early – at primary schools – and will prompt changes to the education system and curriculum.

“The more traditional ways of assessing and learning are starting to become less and less relevant,” Mr Robertson said.

“I expect big changes in the education and training system to be one of the things that comes out of the commission,” the Labour MP said.

Is Robertson also hinting at radical changes to primary and secondary level education? That could be challenging given the reluctance of education sectors to relatively minor changes to their comfort zones.

The Future of Work Commission’s findings will be published in November.

That timing is a shame. It is heading into the political dead zone at end of year, and then we will be headlong into election year, so there may be little chance of a decent non-partisan assessment of the results of Labour’s Commission.

Much may depend on how much Labour’s efforts are targeting their election campaign next year and how much is for the future good of the country as a whole.

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  1. kittycatkin

     /  18th January 2016

    I don’t envy them; they risk losing what’s left of their traditional following if they change too much from what people expect from Labour,

    It’s a bit hard to believe that half of the jobs now will go-there are surely many things that robots can’t do. I can’t see a robot painting a house or pruning a tree. Or putting on a roof or working in a bar or delivering papers or being a courier…

    • Robots may not prune trees but fruit tree pruning has changed markedly.

      I remember each fruit tree being done branch by branch by ladder. Then motorised platforms became the thing. Great contraptions some of them. I used one with swing planks for and aft to reach between the trees.

      Now trees are often trained to fit straight rows and straight platforms, cherry pickers are used and pruners are powered. Not as radical as some industries but quite different all the same.

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  18th January 2016

    You have to be able to learn on the job and transition without breaking employment to retrain. Education should give basic knowledge and skills and enough specialization to get onto the first rung of the employment ladder.

    • I’ve done most of my learning on the job for most of my working life.

      But in that time formal qualifications became necessary to get many more jobs.

      I worked in a technical role for a Polytechnic in 90s. I wasn’t asked to teach much because I didn’t have a degree, but I instructed tutors with university qualifications on very basic stuff so they could teach.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  18th January 2016

        Formal qualification requirements have been imposed by excessive rigid regulation. Qualification systems can never keep up with the pace of change in sectors free to innovate. The more regulation the slower innovation and the less economic benefit to this country. If Labour wants to change to meet the future they need to lift their dead hand of bureaucracy off as many sectors as possible.

        • Even if they seriously wanted to they would have a challenge with the education sector unions.

          • It’s ironic but unsurprising that the information technology sector is the least regulated and fastest changing for the past five decades. If you want to kill innovation, involve the government.

  3. Pantsdownbrown

     /  18th January 2016

    What ever Labour comes up will have to meet two criteria: It needs to be costly to taxpayers and/or business owners (gotta stick-it to those rich ones!) & beneficial to their union paymasters (especially the teachers union if they are to play around with the education system).

    If it’s anything like their ‘NZ Power’ policy then we are in for a nasty surprise………..

    • NZ Power was a rush job and a blatant political play. They are taking much more time with their work policy, as they should.

      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  18th January 2016

        That is true, and one can only hope that something decent comes from it, but with the union pulling their strings how much work innovation can they implement? A more automated workforce & the union movement are not very likely bedfellows. For instance how long before those self-order machines in McDonalds make the counter-staff redundant?

  4. David

     /  18th January 2016

    Can anyone really see the current Labour party coming up with something truly radical when it comes to work or employment? They seem to have fought free schools tooth and nail,

  5. Iceberg

     /  18th January 2016

    Labour are like the old Soviet Union, where iron ore was mined to be converted into tractors at state run factories. The tractors were worth less than the iron ore. Negative value added.
    Lots of ideas will go into this, and the output will be late, discredited before it arrives and worth less than the ideas that went in.

  6. Timoti

     /  18th January 2016

    Geez, shows how insulated Grant is from the real world. If he thinks Unions will take this lying down he has another thing coming. Anyway, just who is Labour the party for? Robots?
    When I left school, any poor smuck who struck out in the job market could always get a job shrub cutting. Our teacher told us such jobs would be obsolete in ten years time. He was wrong. Five years after school finished Fijian workers took over most of those jobs, They were soon replaced by contractors using machinery. The job market has no mercy.

    • Pete Kane

       /  19th January 2016

      What amazed me following the election was just how little money the unions actually gave to the Labour campaign. Certainly nowhere near enough to be filling Qangos with union bosses.

    • Blazer

       /  19th January 2016

      ‘any poor smuck who struck out in the job market could always get a job shrub cutting. ‘…a jobs a job to …many people.


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