Malcolm Foo, Executive Director at PwC New Zealand discusses the opportunities and benefits of AI for councils. 

Global megatrends are disrupting the way we work, live and play. These range from technological advances and demographic change to a rebalancing of economic power from its traditional centres to a world where several countries have the most power. Chief among these trends is the growing impact of emerging technology, and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, on the workforce - the type of work we do, and the way we do it.

PwC’s recent Workforce Hopes & Fears Survey reveals the views of 19,500 workers across Asia Pacific (1,000 in New Zealand) on emerging technology and how it will shape the world of work. Key takeaways from the survey include:

  • 35% of local employees do not believe AI will impact their job compared to 16% across Asia Pacific
  • 18% of New Zealand respondents think AI will create opportunities for them to learn valuable new skills versus 34% in the Asia Pacific region
  • 44% of local employees think that digital skills are important to their career compared to 59% across Asia Pacific.

These results show that New Zealanders are less aware of the opportunities and benefits of AI than their counterparts across Asia Pacific and suggests that our workforce are at risk of falling into complacency. In this article, we explore the impact and upside of AI and outline how councils can start building their workforces for the future.

What is AI?

AI is a broad field of technology that includes machine learning (ML), deep learning (DL), natural language processing (NLP), and image processing (computer vision). Some AI uses include (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • automating routine tasks
  • delivering actionable insights from big data
  • improving decision-making processes
  • driving personalisation
  • enabling predictive maintenance.

It means AI has the potential to drive efficiency across an organisation, freeing up time for people to focus on higher value work.

What skills will be needed to future-proof your Council?

By replacing routine and methodical tasks, AI will amplify the importance of problem-solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and creativity skills. In this world, human-led skills such as innovation, imagination and design will become increasingly important.

The recent Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) indicates that analytical thinking, creative thinking and expertise in using AI and big data will be among the top in-demand skills by 2027. While this report looks at the world of work as a whole, there are takeaways for local government. Organisations will have to transform to remain relevant and have an impact. And, given the efficiencies that embracing AI can drive, in the mid and long term there are likely to be new skills that are needed for organisations and their people to be equipped for the future.

This means that training in technology and related skills should be at the forefront of an organisation’s planning. The WEF report reveals that six in ten workers will require training before 2027, but only half of workers have access to adequate training opportunities. Councils need to be thinking about what training they can provide, how and when, to ensure their people are well prepared and ready.

How to get started

When thinking about the future of their workforces, Councils need to work through and address the following questions:

  • What capabilities do we need?
  • What will some of the emerging roles look like?
  • How do we redefine individuals' roles and core focus?
  • How do we re-skill our workforce to be effective and bring value?
  • How do we create meaningful career paths?
  • How can we design our workplaces to drive engagement, collaboration and retention?

The answers to these questions can help inform your approach to building a workforce for the future and a strategy for moving forward. None of us know with any certainty what the world will look like in the future but we do know for certain that AI will have a significant impact. By thinking through some of the key considerations, councils can work to understand what these new technologies will mean for them, plan ahead and be prepared to succeed.