Some of the smartest people in the country examine the effects of the pandemic on Aotearoa’s future in 400 words or fewer.
There are few corners of society that Covid-19 has not touched. From healthcare to the economy, education to professional sport, the pandemic has changed the way we interact with each other and the world.
The direct impacts are clear and shocking. Globally more than one million people have died. We know lockdowns suck, and so does putting an economy on ice.
But many of the long-term effects are opaque. How bad will the economic fallout be and how long will it last? What are the lasting impacts of Covid-19 on our social structures? Have we learned anything valuable about how to solve giant global issues?
The Spinoff sought insight from an array of industry experts on the way their field will be affected by Covid-19. Originally 6,500 words, we’ve split the piece in two. Part one follows; part two will be published later in the month.
Lauren Vargo: Covid could influence how we respond to climate change
I’m always fascinated by stories of the creation of the atomic bomb. Not because of what was created and the terrible destruction it caused, but because learning about governments and scientists from around the world working together to solve a problem gave me hope that we could address climate change.
Covid-19 is similar in some ways. It’s an obvious problem that many nations have put enormous financial, structural and scientific resources into solving. Most people understand the impact of the virus and the need to fight it.
New Zealand and global responses to Covid-19 are evidence that we can also respond to climate change. Governments are showing they can address major scientific problems. People are being reacquainted with science in their daily lives, becoming familiar with scientists like Siouxsie Wiles and scientific concepts like virus transmission.
Because of Covid-19, we could lose focus on addressing climate change as we put resources into fighting the virus in ways that fit into old systems. Or, Covid-19 could remind us that we can tackle tough problems, especially when lives are at stake. It could be an opportunity to make fundamental structural changes that reduce emissions. Our choice now is whether we battle climate change with the same ferocity that we’re battling Covid-19.
Lauren Vargo is a research fellow at the Antarctic Research Centre
Paul Spoonley: Here comes the Fourth Industrial Revolution
A lot of noise has been made about the rise of working from home and the use of Zoom as we rearrange our lives during the pandemic. But what if these new ways of working are not that new at all, and Covid-19 has simply accelerated the shift? We are rightly immersed in finding ways to negotiate an acute phase of a pandemic. But in doing so, are we overlooking what has been occurring for some time, the disruption that is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The reforms of the 1980s Labour government initiated these changes, and they were endorsed and extended by the subsequent National government. Work was now much more flexible, meaning that collective agreements, worker representation, job security and the state as a major employer were all significantly changed – or had been discarded completely.
Of course, by 2000, non-standard work (contract, casual, third-party, part-time and portfolio employment) had become standard. The gig economy with its precariousness had arrived. And service employment now dominated who was employed and how.
Currently, we trot out a number of statistics to convey the need to anticipate change: 40% of jobs that exist in 2020 will not exist in 2030, 70% of all jobs will be impacted by the use of new technologies or new employment conditions, and 65% of the jobs that a secondary school student will do in the years ahead have yet to be created. Cue the new mantras – employability, transferable skills, flexibility. We echo the OECD line that most will average 15-18 jobs over a working life.
The Global Financial Crisis taught us several things that will almost certainly reappear in the current pandemic-related shifts in our labour market. Job destruction will increase, not only because labour costs will need to be reduced but also because sectors – or parts of them – such as hospitality and tourism, will simply no longer be viable.
Job creation will be modest, especially as it will require investment and time to develop new activities and an appropriately skilled workforce. Labour market churn will drop because many will hold on to their current jobs – which means that some groups, such as school leavers and graduates, will struggle to get a foothold in the labour market. The number of youth not in employment, education or training will rise. And those in vulnerable jobs and sectors will learn – again – the hard lesson that they are precarious workers. Many will be Māori, Pasifika and women.
Covid-19 will make all of this much more transparent – but let’s also give credit to the underlying and ongoing impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And can we please develop more appropriate policies that anticipate these major structural shifts in our labour market? We’ve had 30 years to develop a game plan.
Professor Paul Spoonley is distinguished professor at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University
Julia Arnott-Neenee: Covid-19 exposed the digital divide. Now we can close the gap
The pandemic has pulled back the veil on the digital divide in Aotearoa. The technological inequalities in our society are no longer hidden. Many of these inequalities existed long before Covid-19, but now they’ve been unwrapped and can’t be ignored. We now know that people are staying all night outside libraries to access the internet to do their homework or look for jobs – and some are completely dislocated from social connection – it’s not good enough.
There is a huge gap between the insight we have on the digital inequality in New Zealand and actions on closing that gap. Covid-19 has presented us with the chance to start to address that inequality. Access to the internet and the hardware required to use it needs to be considered a basic human right. To achieve this we need to start refurbishing and redistributing second hand devices and pairing that with cheaper internet access.
Less than 5% of the ICT industry in New Zealand is Māori and Pasifika. Changing this starts in the education system, in the industry and in our communities. We must take a multi-pronged and holistic approach. It’s not enough for a family to receive a device and the internet, how are we then ensuring they have access to information on how to use the device, how are we educating families on what the digital world includes, how are they guided down the pathways the digital world opens up?
Covid-19 has revealed who the communities are, now we have a chance to ask what they need and listen. We must work with the voices of community so equitable and community-led solutions can be found, creating transformational change.
Julia Arnott-Neenee is a strategist in technology and co-founder of PeopleForPeople.
Antony Welton: The rise of the ‘everything employee’
Covid-19 has caused businesses to refocus their operations dramatically, with customer experience one of the biggest factors driving decisions in a new contactless and online world. In this changed landscape, businesses need to innovate constantly to retain customers, as value for money will become more common and Covid-19 financial pressures will change consumer behaviours and expectations.
This means we’ll need empowered teams of people who can adapt quickly to an ever-changing environment. People with multifaceted skills will be in higher demand, being able to work across teams and departments. Robotics and digital tools will become more commonplace within operations, replacing time-consuming, manual processes and freeing up highly skilled employees to solve complex customer problems – or build new customer-friendly products and solutions.
The “everything employee” will be comfortable shifting roles frequently and will therefore gain a more diverse skill set over time. People who can adapt quickly will have an advantage, and schools will focus more on teaching critical thinking skills and problem solving to encourage this flexibility.
Businesses will increasingly value people who excel at the tasks that can’t be automated, such as building empathy, team work, adaptability, creative and holistic thinking, intergenerational perspective and relationship building.
The emergence of “everything employees”, if harnessed, will be enormously positive for Aotearoa, and will enable greater economic growth that will even help us tackle pressing social and environmental issues such as digital inequity and water quality.
If more of our relatively small population become multi-skilled experts – people who can work collaboratively, think creatively, solve problems and adapt rapidly to change – New Zealand can create more digitally focused, export-worthy products and services that are highly valued by global consumers.
If New Zealand is to recover and rebound successfully from the enormous impact of Covid-19, much of that success will be driven by clever, creative, collaborative, customer-obsessed Kiwi employees, who are good at everything.
Antony Welton is the customer operations director at Vodafone NZ
Sacha Judd: A chance to keep the team together
In a normal year, I spend about half my time in the US and the UK. During the pandemic, it’s been incredible to watch the experience of friends and family in those countries diverge so rapidly from our own here in Aotearoa. The failure of leadership and public institutions overseas has meant that every day the risk calculus is on their individual shoulders to decide what they should do.
We joke about the “team of five million”, but every Kiwi knows exactly what’s expected and how to keep ourselves and others safe. That’s because of the trust built early on through clear communication, reliance on science and evidence, and the swift results we saw from our collective action. And then, the resurgence was contained by dedicated people working with families, community health organisations, churches and schools to trace the edges of the outbreak. All the tracking technology in the world is no replacement for the trust needed to carry out that task.
Looking forward, I’m curious to see if this renewed faith in collective action (regardless of political affiliation) will see us diverge even further from the countries that have lost faith in their governments and systems.
I think there are incredible possibilities ahead if we continue to use our new collective muscle not just for getting through this pandemic, but for tackling the other challenges facing Aotearoa. I’m not naive enough to think that we’re suddenly going to be aligned as a nation on every issue – but we now have this shared experience of working together. I think we can use it to reshape how we move forward as a country: the evidence we expect to see, the mandate we give to government, the bravery to take bold national action, and our shared responsibility to include and support and protect each other.
Sacha Judd is the CEO of Hoku Group, a family office combining private investments, early-stage technology ventures and a non-profit foundation
Matt Roskruge: Māori economic impacts and opportunities arising from Covid-19
The Māori economy is a wonderful success story and a significant contributor to the New Zealand economy. However, Māori workers and their whānau are disproportionately impacted by the health, social and economic impacts of Covid-19.
Māori are still excessively employed in precarious work, vulnerable to changing economic fortunes. Coupled with barriers to economic participation like wealth inequality, systemic racism and discrimination, we get a downturn like Covid-19 creating greater risk to the wellbeing of Māori whānau.
While we cannot ignore the vulnerability facing Māori in the workforce and their whānau, there are some really encouraging signs emerging from Covid-19. The first is the strengths and resilience of both Māori enterprise and the Māori economy generally. While tourism and hospitality remain concerning areas, diversification, low levels of debt and Māori governance and values appear to be contributing to their economic resilience.
However, there is no point having vibrant and strong Māori enterprises if Māori whānau are struggling. Solutions include finding employment and wealth creation opportunities for whānau, empowering Māori entrepreneurs and innovators, and finding our own solutions to stubborn social and economic problems.
We also need to ensure that the inevitable opportunities for wealth creation which follow an economic downturn are equitable. Ordinarily, the benefits of that recovery are disproportionately realised by those with significant wealth, and inequality grows. However, with the strength of the Māori economy we’re in a position to realise the benefits of the recovery through investment, innovation, entrepreneurship and strategic use of the now significant wealth held within parts of the Māori economy.
With the excellent leadership, entrepreneurial mindsets and commitment to Māori values we see in the Māori economy, there is every possibility that we can survive and thrive in the face of this and future crises.
Dr Matt Roskruge (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Tama) is co-director of Te Au Rangahau, Massey University
Tava Olsen: A permanent change in supply chain thinking
Covid-19 has helped businesses recognise that their supply chains are critically important. Supply chains don’t run themselves, and the pandemic has shown the need to think through supply chain risks carefully, and to have mitigation, recovery or avoidance strategies for those risks.
The chief supply chain officer (CSCO) is rare as hens’ teeth in New Zealand, yet not an uncommon position overseas. A recent international Indago survey showed 21% of members reported that their organisation has a CSCO and an additional 38% of respondents said that they have a C-suite executive with comparable responsibilities, meaning that supply chain has a seat at the executive table in a majority of surveyed organisations. It would be interesting to see this survey replicated here, but I suspect the numbers would be grim.
Many New Zealand companies have the supply chain function reporting through to the CFO, which sets up the wrong dynamics. A supply chain is not a cost centre; it is a strategic asset, which a successful firm will be able to leverage to create value. Covid-19 has made many firms recognise the lack of visibility they have in their supply chains and instigate work to alter this. Diversification in both supply and demand is an important risk mitigation strategy. This virus has illustrated that concept in spades.
There is also a dearth of operations and supply chain expertise on New Zealand boards. Recent reports and news articles have highlighted the need for a much greater diversity of expertise on New Zealand boards, and I would encourage boards to think about supply chain expertise as some of that diversity.
Am I being overly optimistic that Covid-19 has made a permanent change in our supply chain thinking? Perhaps. But as supply chains continue to get more complex, as customers get more demanding of the right product at the right price at the right time, and as global risks continue to rise, sensible firms will recognise that a change in their supply chain thinking is just what the virus ordered.
Professor Tava Olsen is a director at the New Zealand Centre for Supply Chain Management and deputy director of industry and stakeholder engagement at Te Pūnaha Matatini
Scotty Stevenson: Live sport needs a crowd, but it needs TV more
In September Italy played a game of football against the Netherlands in a massive stadium with no one in it. Quite why it needed to be played in a massive stadium with no one in it is an interesting point to ponder. Massive stadiums are to sport what massive statues are to the Kim dynasty. They represent the ego: the bigger the stadium, the more important the game. Which is why Italy and the Netherlands played a game of football in a massive stadium: it represented a want rather than a need, an image rather than a reality.
Professional sport needs crowds. Even televised sport needs crowds, which is why we have synthetic crowd noise in rugby matches and holographic fans for NBA playoffs. Professional sport needs crowds, but it needs television even more – which is why organisers have moved heaven and earth (or entire basketball leagues to Disney World) to provide television content.
In reality, Covid-19 will do little to change the formulaic broadcasting of sport. There will be an advancement in remote technologies – fixed cameras in stadia, enhanced audio delivery, more studio-based commentary and punditry (one of the main reasons commentators still work at venues is because their narration rises and falls with the crowd reaction), and a renewed focus on direct-to-consumer streaming – but none of this will fundamentally change the product.
What Covid-19 will likely impact upon most is venue design and use. Italy could have played the Netherlands on a training pitch in Hoogeveen, or on a barge floating along the Zwarte Meer, for that matter. What difference would it have made? In some respects it would have been a much better spectacle: a football friendly watched by 20,000 geese. Perhaps we will see sports think more deeply about purpose-built “studio stadium”. The playing field, after all, is where the action is. The rest is dressing.
That’s not to say fans aren’t important, but a lack of them undermines the very purpose of a stadium in the first place. It also has flow-on effects for sponsorship, advertising, food, beverage and merchandising, and therefore on team owners who derive significant proportions of revenues from the “game day” experience. Why would a team now want to rent a stadium when they cannot sell a ticket? Would it not make more sense to have a purpose-built team facility in which matches can be played for broadcast? Think of the camera angles! This just may become a reality, as virtual as it sounds.
Professional sport will find a way to continue – it already has. It must be wary, though, of what kind of product it sells. Popularity begets popularity in the pro leagues. Sport without crowds does not feel like a sustainable future.
A football game on a Dutch lake, though. Could work.
Scotty Stevenson is The Spinoff’s sports editor-at-large, Spark Sport commentator and TVNZ reporter
Frances Valintine: When a crisis comes knocking, the most prepared are those who are most informed
My lens on the world looks at how people seek new knowledge, new information and access to better data. I work with professionals undertaking digital transformation and new business practices, and leaders navigating the impact of technological advancement. I advise governance boards on the need to plan for uncertainty and the rise of black swan events. In all situations, almost all people show resistance to change in the same way. Until people have the rug pulled out from under their feet, very little time is committed to thinking about new ways of living, working or thinking.
If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that confidence in decision-making comes from knowing where to access essential knowledge and how to respond effectively to new facts. On any given day we can test our assumptions, change our actions, reflect on our responses and change our priorities. On any given day we can learn. Our challenge, as adults, is to ensure we are not overly indexed by long-held legacy views or assumptions based upon the persistent long tail of dated analogue practice.
Case in point is the rapid digitalisation deployed by businesses during the first lockdown to accommodate new ways of working and collaborating. The shift from working in physical environments to online video-based interactions then became the catalyst for the deployment of new digital tools and automated systems.
In tandem with the focus on digitisation adoption, business priorities created the need to interact with government, key suppliers, partners, landlords and employees in ways that were new and often uncomfortable. Multi-stakeholder contribution, inputs and challenges became more visceral than ever before.
Six months on from the first surge of Covid-19, organisations who continued to embrace the opportunity of digitisation are beginning to see business growth and scale and the rise of new channels to reach new customers. The coming year is a critical time for building a deeper understanding of the digital economy as the leapfrog effect of a novel pathogen cements our digital future. There is no doubt, 2020 has catapulted New Zealand business into the future, which will require the development of new skills and commitment to learning.
Covid-19 may not have landed with an obvious silver lining, but for those who are prepared to step out and learn from what it has taught us about the road ahead, it might just bring some unexpected benefits.
Frances Valintine is the founder and CEO of The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab
Eric Crampton: Prepare for the worst
Nobody pays quite enough attention to worst-case scenarios. They are often worth thinking through.
One Covid-19 worst case is worryingly plausible. What happens if this coronavirus winds up being like the coronavirus that causes the common cold, except with far worse health consequences? Nobody has developed vaccines for the common cold, and nobody develops anything other than fleeting immunity to it.
Every possible strategy looks worse if this becomes endemic. And I don’t think many of the proponents of any possible strategy have thought hard about what a long outbreak would be like.
Some advocate relaxing restrictions in a quest for herd immunity. In that view, restrictions here wind up meaning that the rest of the world will suffer terrible costs now, but will ultimately achieve resistance to the virus, while New Zealand would be stuck with border and other restrictions forever. But if there is no such thing as herd immunity, places following that strategy will face horrible health consequences, and waves of the virus that bring their own misery and economic costs, for years and years.
But too many advocates of elimination have not reckoned with what is required in scaling up capacity at the border if this winds up lasting for years and years. The current system barely suits as a temporary patch to see us through until more effective treatment and better testing are available. It is not suited for optimistic scenarios where a vaccine is a year away – and absolutely unsuited to an outbreak lasting for years and years.
Patches to the current system can mitigate outbreaks but cannot accommodate the number of travellers the system will have to deal with for outbreaks lasting for years. The system plausibly needs to accommodate at least five times as many visitors as it now can. Remember that a quarter of a million New Zealanders returned home each month in 2019. The system can take 14,000.
Scaling up is critical, lest New Zealand increasingly be left behind in a world where face-to-face contact still matters. The alternative would see New Zealand increasingly isolated, with worsening poverty, and with awful humanitarian consequences for families separated by lack of capacity at the border – but at least without the virus.
The economic consequences of the virus depend on horrible uncertainties – both about the path of the virus itself, and about policy responses. Not preparing for a long haul could be a serious worst case.
Eric Crampton is the chief economist at The New Zealand Initiative
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.