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Let’s rethink how the world works: Embracing opportunity in a post-COVID-19 world

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Author: Mike Smith, Managing Director, IBM New Zealand

Lockdown and COVID-19 have shown us all how rapidly things can change. 

Within a few days, New Zealanders had to transform the way we work, study and shop. We moved to doing a lot more things online. One colleague’s 90-year-old mother-in-law learned how to do an online grocery shop during the lockdown, and her parents learned how to join video calls with the family for the first time. 

Kiwis embraced a new mindset and learned new skills so we could adapt. For me, these are two keys things – mindset and skills – that will help us future proof New Zealand.   

The current global crisis is acting as an accelerant for massive, instantaneous change – the ways we work, how we communicate with each other and our teams, how we learn and innovate – all of these have been completely transformed in a matter of weeks.” Beyond the Great Lockdown: Emerging stronger to a different normal, IBM.

P-TECH students get hands-on with tech in South Auckland

Earlier this year, a group of industry, business and thought leaders came together to dive further into themes that form the building blocks of how we can rethink, reorder, and redesign New Zealand – from businesses to education, government policies and regulatory reform. Our discussion formed the basis for a paper we called Let’s Rethink How the World Works: Embracing opportunity in a post-COVID-19 world

COVID-19 provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how the world works. 

Now is the time to rewire our economy, as well as to fundamentally shift how we value and empower people within society. We have an opportunity to reset and rebuild the New Zealand economy, so it’s more robust than before. 

Technology holds one of the keys to this transformation. But unfortunately, the edict ‘if you build it, they will come’, isn’t true in this case.

When it comes to technology, democratising access is vital, but it is not enough. People need to have trust in what we’re providing, trust it will improve their situation and trust that they can learn the skills to leverage it. This shift in mindset is challenging but will deliver immense value to the nation. 

In this paper, we share our views and recommendations on jobs and skills, supporting the productivity of New Zealand business, exploring the future of the workforce and what this all means for people, culture and engagement. It articulates the overarching situation New Zealand finds itself in and provides recommendations for both government and industry. 

Addressing the digital divide

  • Commit to solving New Zealand’s inequality by developing new funding models to support vulnerable population groups to access the internet and purchase digital devices.
  • Commit to improving connectivity in rural communities and other areas that have poor connectivity. This includes rolling out the Ultra-Fast Broadband network across the country and urgently address access issues in urban areas.
  • Financially incentivise digital upskilling in the same way New Zealanders are incentivised to retrain in trades and other industries.
  • Target programmes to those population groups most likely to have poor connectivity, including lower socio-economic groups, rural communities and Māori, Pasifika and refugees.
  • Encourage government and business to work together to champion and encourage investment in training, upskilling and trust-building programmes and initiatives designed to improve digital uptake.

Unleashing SME productivity through digitisation

  • Support and enable digitised SMEs to work with, and mentor, non-digitised SMEs and help them lead a broader conversation about the benefits of digitisation, the challenges and the opportunities.
  • Provide access to digital strategic advice to encourage and assist SMEs to strategically review their business strategy and operations through a digital lens.
  • Investigate a tax rebate scheme to support SMEs to purchase and implement digital technology solutions.
  • Encourage government and industry to commit to materially co-fund a programme of work designed to enable the digital upskilling of SME business owners and decision-makers to help them understand the benefits of digitisation and encourage investment into technological solutions aimed at improving productivity.

Growing a skilled and digitised workforce

  • Create a national reskilling strategy that aims to maximise opportunities for individuals to retrain and gain meaningful qualifications while in employment.
  • Develop a specific Māori Economic Digitisation Plan that leverages the opportunities presented in a post-COVID world to drive the Māori economy, address skill gaps and encourage digital uptake by Māori businesses.
  • Incentivise the upskilling of people in rural New Zealand for new opportunities that could be available with remote working.
  • Consider implementing targets for Government agencies and large corporates to employ a percentage of staff in regional New Zealand.
  • Encourage business to adopt future-focused company cultures that support remote and distributed work. 

I want to thank the Trans-Tasman Business Circle for bringing us together to tackle these subjects as we carve a path forward for New Zealand to embrace our opportunity to be leaders in this post-COVID-19 world.  

Download the report here.

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