The jobs of tomorrow

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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Juliana Smithells has just seen another wide-eyed high school student out the door, hopefully a little bit more sure of their future career path.

A generation ago parents pushed their high achieving children to study medicine, dentistry and law. But many have been slow to recognise the impact of the digital revolution on the labour market.

The proliferation of technology, an ageing population and increased food exports are significantly changing the career paths for the next generation of workers and away from the traditional aspirations towards doctors, lawyers and accountants.

The Hamilton career councillor and her husband Tim have been in the game 20 years and have seen many job market ups and downs, but say the proliferation of technology into every industry has been a constant.

"I don't want to crystal ball gaze on specific job titles, but technology skills are key for all future jobseekers," Juliana says.

Tim Smithells agrees and says the next generation of workers will need to be increasingly dynamic and adaptable as technology influences their career prospects.

Despite this, Tim and Juliana say today's students do not face an uncertain future. As workplaces evolve, new occupations are being invented.

They don't buy into the idea that technology will make all human labour redundant in the coming decades.

"Instead, every generation has to deal with new technologies which then impact on the ways many jobs are done."

The career councillors say although technology is replacing many manual labour jobs in sectors like manufacturing, elsewhere it simply changes a job description.

"In a nutshell, technology complements, supplements and extends the scope of many tasks and jobs that hands-on workers, technical and professional people do in their work," Tim says.

Examples include the surge in smartphone app developers, social media specialists and food quality technicians.

He says the trends of the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) over the past 20 years show that within the nine occupational clusters defined, across 140 industries, 580 occupational groupings and an estimated 26,700 job titles, only five new occupational groupings have been added.

"This is less than one per cent growth. So much for thousands of new occupations."

All of the ISIC additions are in the ICT and online communications fields.

Juliana says many career paths tied to technology of today will follow roles like switchboard operators into occupational oblivion.

Census data compiled for Fairfax Media on job trends between 2006 and 2013 give some indication of the direction the New Zealand job market is heading and what skills are redundant or have been outsourced overseas.

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Technology advancement and cheaper offshore labour means it is highly unlikely today's school children will end up working as textile and footwear production machine operators, service station attendants, printers, sewing machinists, timber process workers, keyboard operators, bank worker or meat boners.

These jobs declined rapidly between the two census dates, with 4000 fewer people identifying as a sewing machine and textile workers between 2006 and 2013.

Others in the bottom 10 include general clerks and secretaries, which have have each declined by about a third , possibly coinciding with the increase in the number of people identifying themselves as office managers, which were up 83 per cent over the same period.

There is a similar pattern among those describing themselves as journalists, which has been declining for years and dipped nearly 5 per cent between 2006 and 2013, and the rise in the number of public relations professionals, which jumped by half, to more than 3500.

So, it's more likely a child with a passion for writing and media could be steered towards a career in corporate communications and public relations than traditional journalism or writing.

Tim says ethical careers councillors always inform young adults of the realities facing an industry with high supply and low demand, such as marketing, media and psychology.

"Otherwise it's irresponsible, since it creates false hope and may set young people on a path to unemployment rather than a path to job satisfaction.".

So what career pathway leads to a guaranteed job?

Predictably, jobs in the ICT sector surged between 2006 and 2013 Census results. They are plentiful, high-paying and show no sign of slowing down.

Web developers and multimedia specialists grew by 119 per cent over the last seven years, while ICT business and systems analyst jobs jumped 38 per cent, to just under 10,000.

Software and application programmers grew by 30 per cent to 17,000.

Massey University Vice Chancellor Steve Maharey says within the next 10 years industries like health, education also look like solid options as the population ages, while the internet "gobbles up so many of the service-orientated jobs".

Census figures backs this up, with aged care workers, nurses, social welfare workers and early childhood teachers all amongst the top 10 jobs in greater demand.

Other top 10 growing jobs include anomalies like sport coaches, instructors and officials, which collectively grew by 50 per cent to 6100 jobs.

Maharey says the recent sharp increase in the number of product quality controllers , to about 1600, is a good example of some jobs still based on New Zealand's traditional agriculture foundation, but where value was added.

"That's where the future of work will be. If you look at Silver Fern Farms and other food companies that have begun to move beyond commodity production.

"That creates a value chain that soaks up skills, like logistics and marketing, increases exports and jobs."

Maharey says more work needs to be done to correct the "mismatch, where our vision and training towards a smart economy does not result with enough jobs at the other end."

The top 10 jobs by number include general managers, nurses, personal care workers, sales people, chief executives and directors, labourers, farmers and hospitality staff.

This list is likely to remain stable, even if there is some evolution in their job descriptions, Maharey says.

Business NZ head Phil O'Reilly says manufacturing should not be written off as a career field because high-tech manufacturing will is likely to grow with technology, rather than be defeated by it.

"High value manufacturing and services is an export-focused sector, including high-end food processing, and currently provides great opportunities for many skilled employees," O'Reilly says.

The sector will continue to grow strongly provided the right skills, like engineering, are available, but are being knee-capped by a lack of engineering graduates, he says.

But it is not all bad news for students who do not excel in science, technology, engineering and maths.

"The line between manufacturing and services is getting increasingly blurred, and this sector also needs high-level service skills including product testing, analysis and market research," O'Reilly says.

So what are the risks for students who don't grasp technological innovations as quickly as their peers? Labour spokesman for employment, skills and training Grant Robertson says some could become washed up in the wake of the technology wave.

"Undoubtedly technology will continue to cut into jobs in traditional labouring, which is all the more reason to invest in skills applicable to the modern world. We don't want any school student left behind," he says.

"It is possible we'll have constant higher unemployment, unless we act now, and that is where the Government is letting us down."

Robertson said it will be adults currently in the workforce, as well as today's students, who will need employer and government support to constantly up-skill as technology evolves, something Business NZ's O'Reilly agrees with.

Robertson says encouraging ongoing education, as much as specific skills, need to be the focus.

"It's important to develop young people to get transferable skills and open their minds to innovation and upskilling, rather than getting hung up on specific jobs," Robertson says.

Simon Richardson, director of software company Wynyard Group, however, is getting hung up on certain jobs - ones that Wynyard need filling.

Christchurch-based Wynyard specialises in crime analytics software and employs about 170 staff, but is crying out for programmers, developers and higher level software engineers.

"It's a story we've all heard before, but with the growth of our industry there is a constant challenge to find good developers. The size of the pool is small and the competition to get the best, is intense," he says.

Wynyard pays well over $100,000 a year for highly-skilled post-graduate software engineers, but even with high remuneration packages Richardson struggles to fill roles.

Internationally, high salaries are synonymous with the software development industry, even at the lowest level.

Forbes magazine and careers company Glassdoor recently found 15 of the top 20 highest paying companies for university interns are high-tech companies, with Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook and Ebay all in the top 10 beating traditionally high paying energy firms like ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Wynyard works with universities to find students to start as interns, but more could be done to increase applied knowledge and engineering skills while they study.

Richardson says it has taken a while, but parents of schoolchildren have realised computing and software is no longer "just nerd territory" and can become a lucrative and rewarding career.

"Increasingly, parents of high school kids ask me, 'Is this software and game engineering something I should be encouraging my kids to follow more than accounting and law?"

The statistics and salary figures point to a resounding 'yes'.

- Fairfax Media

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