Earlier this month, I stumbled across a short but fascinating piece in the NZ Herald about a world first in artificial intelligence (AI), developed right here in Tāmaki Makaurau. Researchers at AUT have used NeuCube, a machine learning system modelled on how the human brain learns and recognises patterns, to develop an AI model that is able to predict a person’s choices, before they have made up their mind. Let me repeat that for emphasis; this tech can accurately predict your choice, before you have made that choice.
This ground breaking work is predicted to have a number of fascinating uses, including neuromarketing, cognitive studies and crime solving. For me, reading this reinforced my belief that the talk about AI permeating every facet of our lives is not mere hyperbole. It’s happening right now—and here in NZ. In an earlier blog post I kicked off what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about AI, and its impact on our corner of the world. Of course, given our business and my role, I’m particularly interested in how AI could affect our local employment market. There’s a multitude of possible impacts, but here are the three that are front of my mind.
Whenever the subject of AI and the impact on job market is raised, you will tend to hear experts debating on two sides of the fence. I’m simplifying here, but essentially these opposing sides are 1) that advances in AI will bring about massive and terrible job losses, which will have a hugely detrimental effect on human society, or 2) that AI will in fact bring about a multitude of new roles and opportunities in the employment market. I’d classify myself as resting in this second group. I’m (cautiously) optimistic that the widespread adoption of AI will bring about changes in the types of roles needed to fuel our society and economy, and will bring with it new jobs. And in this way of thinking there is still an acknowledgement that yes, some jobs will be lost.
As routine tasks become automated, roles that are focused around such tasks will become less and less relevant, and eventually obsolete. But remember, this is nothing new. In the year 1800, 75% of Americans were farmers, today that figure is 2%. While here in New Zealand at end of the 19th century, nearly 40% of New Zealanders worked in the primary sector; agriculture, forestry or fishing. In today’s world that proportion is closer to 7%. Despite the fears and concerns, every technological shift has ended up creating more jobs than were destroyed. The optimistic view is that AI will play a supportive role to humans, and will require numerous new roles, particularly specialties with a focus on technology and science.
Earlier this year, PWC released an interesting global report detailing their analysis of the potential impact of automation across 29 countries. Their conclusion was that New Zealand is well positioned to manage what they describe as three coming waves of automation between now, and the mid-2030s. The study found that NZ has just the sixth-lowest share of jobs that are at high risk of automation thanks to our high concentration of roles in difficult-to-automate industries, rising to only 24% by the mid 2030s. Nevertheless, we can expect to see some job losses in those sectors with higher potential of being automated. For example, workers in manufacturing, transport and storage, who tend to spend a larger proportion of time engaged in manual, or simple admin and routine tasks.
Because we play an advisory role to our candidates, and the broader NZ talent pool, it’s important for us at Madison to figure out how to address these changes proactively. We don’t want to simply sit back and watch from the sidelines. One of our challenges as a business is to instead ensure we continue to understand the market, and keep candidates informed and ready for the changing job outlook.
As you look around, you’ll see that the career landscape is shifting rapidly, and looks different to ten or even five years ago. Career paths are no longer linear, people are more likely than ever to switch careers, to work for a range of big and small employers across their lifetime and to set up their own businesses. Mallory Mason, Team Leader here at Madison, discussed this shift in her recent blog post, The Future of Work in a Digital World which is well worth a read. I believe that widespread adoption of AI will only serve to reinforce and expand upon these changes.
Our increasingly digital world will provide even more opportunity to work from anywhere, and at anytime. Emerging roles and industries will require broader and more diverse skill sets. People will work on a project basis, or in side gigs to order build their portfolio of skills to meet these requirements. Human workers will need to be flexible and adaptable.
Somewhat ironically, it’s been said that today many companies operate in a way that treats people as if they were robots – piling on more and more responsibilities without providing the space to think about how to do things differently, or how their role gives value. So the adoption of ‘robots’, or AI into many industries and companies, through the removal of reactive, routine task will potentially give employees opportunity to become more efficient, proactive and strategic in their roles.
Have you ever had a play around with the site ‘Will Robots take my job’? It’s fun to have a look, but not perhaps the best measure of what to expect for your career in the future. For a start, I couldn’t find recruitment listed anywhere; there’s a bit of work to be done on the roles included. However, this question of whether AI will have an impact on recruitment is a regular discussion point at Madison.
Firstly, I should say that I’m not someone who believes that we can eliminate the human factor out of recruitment altogether. Hiring the right people into a business is a major part of an organisation’s long-term success, and I don’t believe there is a substitute (yet!) for a professional recruiter’s assessment and selection expertise. That said, there’s definitely some room to become more efficient in the recruitment process. Some of this work is already being done in the form of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and scheduling tools. It would be fantastic to be able to free up even more time for recruiters and other stakeholders involved in the hiring process. This time could then be spent on those high value tasks where human judgement is required and necessary, like interviewing candidates. A quick internet search will reveal dozens of new tools and companies purporting to help in this way so it can’t be too long before there is more widespread adoption.
AI can also be hugely beneficial for the candidate experience. Communication is one of those areas where there is room for improvement from a candidate’s perspective, and could be addressed with the use of machine learning AI. Some businesses are already using chatbots to provide candidates with updates, feedback, guidance and real-time answers to recruitment questions.
The other side of the ‘AI and recruitment’ question is in our service offering to clients. The traditional recruitment service with a full end-to-end process is already shifting, with more unbundled options on offer to meet differing client needs (Take Madison’s Recruitment Unwrapped as an example). But as roles themselves change, the possibilities for offering digital solutions are growing. We may look to answer a client’s requirement to fill ‘X’ number of Accounts Receivable roles, with a proposal to provide fewer (human) candidates, augmented by ‘virtual’ workers able to manage simple data entry tasks. The possibilities are exciting.
These are three possible implications of AI adoption that are thinking points for me today, but which of course barely scrape the surface of this vast subject as it relates to our labour market. Fortunately, greater minds than mine are constantly at work on debating the finer details of the topic. If you are interested, I recommend signing up to AI forum news, and setting google alerts to notify you about interesting forums, workshops and discussion groups happening right across the country.
Whatever your role and industry, artificial intelligence is going to have an impact. Here are my questions for you, if you’d like to comment here. Alternatively feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
 P51, ‘Artificial Intelligence, Shaping a Future New Zealand’, AI Forum,