The future of work

Find out where the jobs will be in the future, and what skills and knowledge you'll need to do them.

One woman stands over and watches the computer of another woman in an office. There are pens and post it notes on the desk and the women are user experience designers.

User experience design jobs have emerged in the last decade

The changing world of work

New jobs

If you entered the workforce more than 20 years ago, you wouldn’t have considered the following occupations because they weren’t around:

  • user experience designer
  • social media manager
  • 3-D animator
  • sustainability manager
  • carbon emissions trader
  • mobile phone applications developer.

There is no doubt that the landscape of work has changed during the past 20 years. Globalisation, demographic shifts and technological advances are some factors that have created a highly competitive, rapidly changing work environment.

While we can’t predict what new occupations will be around in the future, we can see what types of industries are most likely to have high demand for workers, and what industries are likely to decline.

Emerging industries

Emerging industries are not always new – sometimes they might have been around for many years but new job opportunities arise within them. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's list of emerging industries includes:

  • biotechnology – especially medical drugs and equipment
  • food and beverage – our dairy, seafood, and wine industries continue to grow with an insatiable demand from consumers for fresher, tastier products
  • creative – movie-making is well established and tipped to grow
  • information technology – our fastest-growing export sector.

Long-standing and high demand industries

These industries have traditionally offered good opportunities, and are expected to continue to employ many people in the future.

  • Health – demand for workers will continue to grow because our population is ageing.  
  • Education – there is steady demand for teaching and training services.
  • Social services – again our ageing population will drive demand for social support.
  • Personal services – everything from trades, accommodation, cafes and restaurants, transport, communications, properties and business services.
  • Agriculture and horticulture – high demand for our dairy, meat, and fruit products will lead to more jobs.  

Industries that are declining

Industries that are currently declining, or expected to decline include:

  • banking, finance and insurance – the rapid advance of technology has reduced staff numbers
  • postal services – electronic communication has reduced demand and worker numbers are decreasing.

Changing work patterns

Remember that it isn’t just jobs that are changing; people are also changing their work patterns and perceptions of what a career is. Growing trends include:

  • increasing part-time employment
  • later entry to the workforce
  • ongoing training and/or retraining
  • less upward promotion, and more horizontal career development
  • more self-employment and small businesses
  • more emphasis on work-life balance.

Rapper Pera Barrett says that people do a double-take when they find out what he does for a day job. For 28 hours a week, he's a call centre operator – and he loves his job, as the hours allow him to concentrate on performing and producing music.

"I’m a rapping insurance specialist. It is a bit bizarre. That’s New Zealand for you I guess – full of part-time artists."

Pera Barrett

Pera Barrett

Call Centre Operator

Changing tactics of employers

As organisations strive to remain competitive, employers are increasingly:

  • contracting staff for specific tasks
  • ensuring workers and the work they do can be switched and/or changed quickly
  • allowing workers to communicate with each other rather than through supervisors and managers
  • giving workers autonomy and giving them the opportunity to take responsibility for the work that they do.

At the heart of it all, most employers are looking for people with some common skills and characteristics. Businesses – just like the rest of the community – want people who are good citizens. In other words, they want people to be honest, to care about others, and to make a contribution.

Phil O’Reilly

Phil O’Reilly

Former CEO, Business NZ

Changing perceptions of what a career is

What is a career and how do you advance it during your lifetime? There are changing perceptions of this. Gone are the days when upward promotion in one organisation was expected.

Nowadays there is more of an emphasis on horizontal career development, and managing your own career. An example of this would be an IT specialist who believes that she has excellent team leader skills and wants to work more with people, so she starts to seek out opportunities where she can develop and grow the necessary skills to be able to eventually move into management.

Because the structure of work is always changing, it's important to consider your career as a lifelong journey, rather than a destination. It is no longer enough to ask, “What should I do?” Now there are more questions to ask. Some critical ones are:

  • Where do I ultimately want to be in my life?
  • How should I do it?
  • How does this fit with my life values and goals?
  • What could be my next step?
  • How can I prepare for the next change as I do my current work?

The key to managing one’s own career is to take responsibility for it. Some things to pay attention to are:

  • developing a wide range of transferable skills
  • getting feedback
  • doing work-related reading
  • getting tertiary education and specific skill training
  • getting mentoring and/or coaching.

Thinking about all of these things will help you to take responsibility for your career journey.

Updated 16 Jan 2017