Friday, 31 March 2017

The Challenging Changes to Work

The technological changes we are seeing in the world today are unprecedented. Never has technology been more powerful, more available or cheaper than it is today and we are just at the beginning. The projected growth of technology in the next two years is purported to be as much as we have seen in the whole of history. This will have a greater impact on the way we live and work than any of us can imagine.

Concurrent with this is an ongoing concern about the impact of continuing skills shortages on business which CEOs in New Zealand and globally see as a major concern. Both issues mean it is vitally important to reassess the way we educate and the content of our education. It is critical that as we build an increasingly complex economy in our city and our region we have students at all levels being prepared in an optimal way to participate in and across that economy.

The expectations of education outcomes are changing markedly. Employers are looking for young New Zealanders to be able to relate well to others, to be motivated and reliable, to be resilient and enterprising, literate and numerate and to be informed decision makers while being critical and creative thinkers. These attributes are going to be increasingly important as we consider the dynamic future that awaits young people.

Education, particularly at a secondary school level, is not just about allowing young people to make immediate choices that confront them at the end of school but is about ensuring young people are equipped to consider their career paths throughout life. Their career paths will markedly be influenced by changes in the workplace driven by technology. It is legitimate to ask whether our education system will have the ability to keep pace with the changes confronting us.

There are already robots that are perfectly capable of doing background legal research for complex court cases. There are robots that are much more accurate in their pathological diagnosis than human beings. We are seeing the beginnings right here in this city of autonomous electric vehicles, with one being trialled at Christchurch International Airport. Some are predicting that a simple cellphone will be as powerful as the human brain within eight years.

The collection, interpretation and use of data is increasing exponentially to the extent that already some of us are becoming concerned about who is collecting it and what they are using it for.

I can recall in the 1970’s when computer technology was just starting to ramp up that some of us thought the requirement for employees would materially drop over time as computers took over. That did not happen, but slowly and surely, workplace dynamics changed. There are many things that cellphones and computers are doing now that use to be done manually usitlising large numbers of people.

Opportunities for work will continue. However, the work will be different. Employees will have strong literacy language and numeracy skills and increasingly need skills of communication and corporation, computation, computer mastery, creativity, and critical thinking. Tomorrow’s employees will need to be able to think across traditional disciplines make connections and solve problems. Already division of labour is increasingly in teams rather than in hierarchy of command. The old model of educated managers supervising the less educated workforce has gone. So as we face our future we need to be putting much more emphasis on educating our young people in new ways to embrace what is ahead of us. That is a significant challenge for us all. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Keeping Our Heads Above Water

New Zealand is a country blessed with copious quantities of fresh water. Recently some parts of our country have had a lot more than they want, some a lot less. It is an extraordinarily precious resource that must be cared for and used more wisely than it is being used at present.

Historically water usage in Canterbury, and in wider New Zealand, has been very opportunist. We have taken water from wherever we can get it and have used it for whatever we wanted to use it for. We have not had sufficient regard for the way it has been extracted, the way we have treated it and the way we have returned it to the environment. That is all changing. In my opinion 2017 will be the year that the real issues about the sensible utilisation of water right across our communities will begin to be understood and accepted.

In Canterbury almost all the available fresh water passes through or under the Canterbury Plains and out to sea. However, because of the way we have extracted water we have put pressure on very vulnerable areas in our environment, both through creating water shortages and through contaminating water systems in a way that is not sustainable. We need to work out ways to maximise the economic benefit of fresh water utilisation while concurrently protecting and continuously improving water quality and availability.

To drive this change we will inevitably need to harness existing and new technologies which are becoming cheaper, more powerful, more available and more applicable every day. Those technologies will be driven by far better data collection and analysis to ensure we make the right decisions. We will need to ensure that we get communities buying into the need for a different approach to water management. This will reduce waste and inefficiency, allow flexibility and support the development of infrastructure to ensure reliability of storage and water supply. We will also need to demonstrate leadership with respect to how we make better decisions with regards to water utilisation and how we facilitate investment and longer term planning to ensure that we use available water equitably and wisely.

The harvesting and controlled distribution of large volumes of water along the east side of the main divide will be critical in this regard. There have already been good examples of water schemes that harvest and farm water. The Opuha Scheme in South Canterbury is one, and more recently the Central Plains Water Scheme in North Canterbury which not only takes excessive run of river water when it can but also uses Lake Coleridge as a water sink to ensure reliability of supply. These schemes can guarantee water supply when it is needed and also support and encourage the amelioration of environment damage that has been done in the past.

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) has been a good model to manage water allocation and utilisation to date but it is just at its beginning. The important thing about the CWMS model is that it relies on input from right across various participants in our community, all of whom have different requirements for the protection and/or utilisation of water. It relies heavily on reaching a consensus with regards to how water is allocated. That inevitably involves compromise, an appreciation to think strategically and agree on what is the best outcome for the wider community.


Our future is not about putting unreasonable restrictions on water utilisation. It is much more about sourcing water from where we can and utilising it in a way that does not involve environmental degradation. That is possible with use of good technology, sensible water management structures, strategic thinking and good leadership. We can do that in Canterbury and we can lead the way for others to follow.   

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Sharing Lessons of Disaster Recovery

Late last year I was invited to attend an ASEAN conference in Manila to present to all ten ASEAN countries lessons learned from the Christchurch earthquake from a business perspective.

ASEAN countries are prone to disasters of many types, including significant seismic activity, typhoons, hurricanes and floods. Their preoccupation with recovery is very much related to how individuals are protected in a post-disaster environment. My presentation in Manila was about how we protected the corporate infrastructure of Christchurch post-earthquake through various interventions with remarkable success.

The rationale for this intervention from a social protection perspective (looking after the people) is that by protecting the fabric of the companies you protect employment and therefore ensure optimal outcomes for people in a post-disaster environment.

This was a foreign concept for almost all the attendees at the ASEAN seminar in Manila. They were intrigued to hear how the Government supported a wage subsidy post-earthquake which meant that companies could maintain and protect employment relationships even though their businesses were seriously compromised.  I told them that our Government invested in excess of $250 million into Christchurch companies by way of a wage subsidy that was a lifeline for thousands of earthquake impacted companies. I also advised them of the behavior of our banks in affording extra facilities to affected companies and our insurance companies who in many instances provided part payment of insurance settlements to ensure continuing cashflow and the IRD who delayed payments on GST or provisional tax to ensure companies cashflows were optimised. The big lesson was that it was all about maintaining cashflow in companies and protecting employment relationships.

I was involved in some serious questioning with respect to the affordability of such interventions. I was told that it was all very well for a wealthy first world country to provide financial support for its businesses but how could poorer economies afford to do this? My response was to advise them that this was not a cost to Government but rather an investment. The millions invested in protecting corporate structures in Canterbury will have been repaid many times over through continuing PAYE payments, GST payments as well as corporate tax payments. Of course, the Government had far fewer people to pay the unemployment benefit to because people stayed in work.

My message to these communities was that this was a good way of protecting economic activity and social outcomes post-disaster and should be seriously considered as a proven disaster recovery mechanism.

The normal churn rate for businesses in Christchurch (in other words those businesses that go out of business every year for one reason or another) is around 11.4%. Since the earthquake, it has been around 11.6%. A remarkable statistic when you consider that up to 30% of our companies were predicted to collapse post-earthquake. Work done by the IRD demonstrates that GST payments, PAYE payments and corporate tax payments have continued to grow from immediately post-earthquake until today. Which is another good sign of corporate health and payback to the public purse.

Recently I was approached by the International Labour Organisation to present to another seminar in Mongolia on exactly the same topic. What we did in Christchurch has increasing interest in the Asia Pacific region. We should not underestimate the positive commercial outcomes that occurred in Christchurch post-earthquake and the lessons the world can learn from that. It is a great credit to all institutions involved, including our Government, who saw the merits of protecting cashflows in a post disaster environment as a means to optimise long term positive economic outcomes. It has worked in Christchurch and it can work elsewhere. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Oh Dear it is Almost Christmas

Santa was really angry. Time was running out and he had a lot to do to ensure that he met the expectations of all of his avid followers worldwide. If only I had a plan said Santa, every year I leave things to the last minute, I need some sort of strategic direction to ensure that I can do things on time, on target and within budget and once again I am going to fail on all three.

He looked around his cave. It was dominated by a dishevelled mass of toys. These look a lot like last years models he said, I should have done more research and development on current trends and innovative new technology to ensure that I was keeping up with the needs of my customers and the market. But then, he sighed to himself I simply dont have the back-office systems to enable me to develop a good database, to control my inventory, to ensure I have the addresses of all my recipients and to make sure that I dont deliver presents to naughty little children who simply dont deserve them. Why cant I be more accurate year after year.

He looked around and heard his reindeers scratching expectantly in the snow. Oh my goodness I have forgotten to feed them again he said, animal welfare issues how do I know how much to feed them before the long journey we are embarking on and how often I need to stop to replenish them?, I need more information. Where do I go to get it?

Then he reflected on the plight of his elves. His poor little elves, who year after year, work day and night with no reward. I have an employment issue here, I really should have some expert advice on employment relations. Look at that stupid elf chopping away on a new toy with a sharp knife and no protection. Goodness where is my health and safety programme? Wouldnt it be awful if I was prevented from delivering all of these presents because I had breached the new health and safety regulations and was detained and prosecuted.

One of the elves was heard to grumble I wouldnt be surprised if that happened. We have been treated badly for a terribly long time. We need some HR advice and Santa hasnt been good enough to search it out for us and make sure our working conditions are well protected and that we work in an empowering and flexible environment. There is nothing flexible about assembling toys year after year in a snow cave with no reward. And by the way Santa one called. You should access a wage and salary survey so that you can see what good elves should be paid, rather than just giving us a few crumbs from the Christmas Cake you collect on your rounds after your worldwide deliveries.

That is all very well for you to say said Santa I have got these worldwide deliveries to do and I dont know where I am going. How on earth do I get directions? Who can give me advice country by country on the demographics, the details, the geography and where I should be landing my sleigh?

To top it all off I have got a problem in Christchurch. There are no chimneys. How can I possibly deliver presents where there are no chimneys? I only wish that I could find some expert advice, particularly about that problem in Christchurch.

Thats not your only problem shouted an elf from a dark corner. You have no export documentation for any of your presents. You are going international Santa. You need to have certificates of origin and other export documentation to ensure that you will not get stopped at borders. How on earth are you going to get all those presents delivered in 24 hours if you breach all the Customs regulations?

You think that is a big deal? said another elf. He has got another problem with immigration. He is not going to have any right to cross those borders without the right visas and plant himself in other countries without an invitation. He needs some really good immigration and visa advice.

It is all such a hassle said Santa and it happens year after year after year. Life is simply getting much too complicated for me. I really do need some help.

Well Santa said a voice from a long way away, If you call on us here in Christchurch we will make you a complimentary member of the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce and we will resolve almost all of your issues, that will make everybody happy.

Merry Christmas everyone.


Ho! Ho! Ho!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Lincoln University - knowledge and innovation for Canterbury's future

Christchurch is well known for its resilience, its “garden city” aesthetic, its strong balanced economy and as a go-to tourism destination. Something often not as well recognised about Christchurch and wider Canterbury is its integral role in the country’s agri-business sector, not only on a local level, but nationally and globally.

One institution often seen as the backbone of Canterbury, and New Zealand’s, agri-business industry is Lincoln University. For more than 138 years Lincoln University has focused on improving the country’s agricultural knowledge, wealth and productivity.

With a diverse student population of approximately 3500, from more than 60 different countries, Lincoln has built a reputation as an international leader in education, targeted at the growth and development of our primary production, the distribution sector and a range of related fields.

New Zealand’s largest land-based university, Lincoln is ranked 343 in the global ranking of tertiary institutions and number 100 when that field is narrowed to the disciplines of agriculture and forestry.

Lincoln is the country’s third-oldest university, founded in 1878 as a School of Agriculture, linked to Canterbury College. By 1896, the school separated from the college and formed its own governing body, which gave it the ability to award degrees through the University of New Zealand. In the early 1960s the university was officially renamed Lincoln College, a constituent college of the University of Canterbury. It became a self-governing institution in 1990.

Lincoln University has continuously adapted in order to better meet the needs of the modern commercial environment and the ever-changing agri-business sector. Courses have been structured to teach students the skills they need to operate in an increasingly specialised sector, now and in the future, and encompass practical skills as well as up-to-date knowledge of management and industry practices.

Lincoln offers a number of research-based programmes within its main campuses, many of which also extend to the university’s various farm portfolios. Lincoln offers hands on practical learning in food marketing, commerce, environmental management, landscape architecture, viticulture, tourism and property management. Research is a key aspect in every discipline and underpins its current mission – to help feed the world, protect the future and live well.

It is estimated that within the next 35 years the world’s population will reach 9.2 billion people, meaning food supply and production will be paramount, as too will be creating a sustainable environment for future generations. Lincoln’s ability to train the future leaders and innovators in this space, taking on the key problems faced by the world, will be integral to keeping Canterbury and New Zealand at the forefront of international agri-business.

In order to continue to produce top-quality graduates Lincoln has developed the Lincoln Hub (He Puna Karikari) in partnership with AgResearch, Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research and DairyNZ. The Hub will work combining with research industry and teaching and providing staff and students with various research and development-based opportunities.

An innovative network, education and research precinct (set to open in 2019 on the Te Waihora campus) the Hub will comprise five buildings, housing 706 staff and 900 scientists. It will involve the largest concentration of environmental and land-based researchers in the Southern Hemisphere.

The multi-faceted team behind the Hub is central to its success, part of Lincoln University’s recognition of the importance of building and developing partnerships between industry and research.

Lincoln University is a unique institution well equipped to educate the agri-business experts of tomorrow.


Lincoln’s ability to offer high-quality, future-focused education designed to meet the needs of the broad range of industries associated with the primary sector makes it vitally important to us all. Our future will depend to a large extent on how we apply clever innovative technologies to our natural capital. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Protecting our power base

The recent 7.8 magnitude quake and series of aftershocks that have so drastically impacted the communities of North Canterbury serve as a harsh reminder of the benefits of foresight when it comes to investing in our own infrastructure assets.
After six years of earthquake recovery and rebuild, the city is in good shape to withstand the impact of future seismic events. We live in a seismic environment. It is for this reason that we must continue to invest in the resilience of key infrastructure that allows us to get on with our lives, and growing a thriving and vibrant economy.
Our electricity network is one of those critical fundamentals. It is also a great example of where foresight prepared the city well for some of its darkest days. Power was restored to the majority of the city very quickly after the February 2011 quake because of decades of prudent smart planning, investment and timely maintenance.
Although systems performed well there are still lessons to be learned. Orion openly states that its principle objective following the earthquakes has been to restore resilience to the network and reliability of power supply to our wider Christchurch community by 2019. That involves several significant projects – the 66,000 volt ‘northern loop’ cable project is one, as well as improvements to the supply to Lyttelton and the surrounding bays.
In working towards this goal Orion has approached the recovery and rebuild of the city in a disciplined and collaborative way. It is working with business, industry and community groups to ensure that in future events the network is resilient and flexible. The ability to reroute electricity flow away from damaged circuits to other, undamaged, parts of the network is critical to keeping the network working.
The recently completed northern loop project was five years in the delivery and is one of Orion’s largest ever projects. It is effectively a super highway solely dedicated to the effective distribution of power around and across the city. This will have a major positive impact on protecting our communities and businesses. It will also provide a strong foundation to support new technologies such as solar, battery storage and electric vehicles.
Recently there has been concern about interruptions to the electricity supply to the Lyttelton area. Lyttelton and surrounding areas are vital parts of our community fabric, and the port is critical to the success of our local economy. Improving the surety of power supply to and in the Lyttelton area is therefore a priority. Orion has been working on this issue for some time, but it’s not a quick fix and the investment required is significant.
The power supply to this area comes from the Heathcote Valley substation via two overhead lines that that share a common set of poles. This is tough terrain and a harsh climatic environment so there’ll be risk of power outages from time to time.
The best and most cost-effective way to improve the reliability of power supply to Lyttelton is to run a separate cable through the Lyttelton tunnel, which would then provide an additional source of power. But this requires NZTA approval because it owns the tunnel.
I understand Orion has been in conversation with NZTA for some time now and an agreement is not too far away. In the meantime, Orion has invested more than $1.5 million as a first step to improving the resilience of the Lyttelton network. This includes significant work on substation relocation and renewal.
Preparatory work has set the Lyttelton network up to receive the planned cable through the tunnel. Once an access agreement is finalised, phase two of the Lyttelton Project will commence with the installation of the cable through the tunnel, which should be completed within 24 months.
Further work is underway and more is scheduled on the two existing overhead lines into Lyttelton to improve the reliability of power supply in the interim.

Our community has been and will continue to be well served by Orion. It performed well in a post-earthquake environment and we can expect it to continue to finesse its operations through investment and innovation.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Applying learnings from disaster

The Christchurch business sector has learned much from the 2010/2011 earthquakes relating to how to respond and maintain economic activity in a community.

Never did we think that the lessons we learned in Christchurch would have to be applied to a community so close to home in such a short timeframe. The devastation in Hurunui and Kaikoura is still becoming apparent. The reality is that there are businesses who are stranded, who have disrupted supply chains and broken premises. Further they lack the essential services such as water, power, wastewater and communications to carry on their businesses. On top of all that in many cases their markets have simply dried up. When you have a tourist dependent business and the tourists are not coming you are in trouble. There is no doubt that many of the communities in the Hurunui and Kaikoura districts, including Kaikoura itself, are in dire straits.

One of the critical factors in Christchurch was the importance of providing cashflow to businesses to maintain the fabric of the business until it could get up and running again. Post 2010 I described it as business as usual when there is no business. The lessons we have learned in Christchurch put us in a very good space to help communities to the north. I have often used Kaikoura as a classic example of the interdependency between sustainable profitable business and community wellbeing. With the rapid growth of eco-tourism, corner-stoned by the whale watch activities, Kaikoura has changed from a small railway town to a bustling and vibrant community. Its proposition evolving around eco-tourism is the epitome of sound sustainable business activity. However, if the business activity in Kaikoura is not supported immediately it will be severely compromised and it will take a very long time for the Kaikoura community to recover.

Here are some examples of what I think should be applied to the Kaikoura business community and beyond to ensure that affected businesses can be maintained until markets are restored:
  • One of the most critical issues in Christchurch was the introduction by the Government of the Earthquake Support Subsidy that provided cashflow for businesses until they could get themselves into recovery mode. It was based on a number of dollars per employee per week. It was delivered on a high trust basis and it was a very significant component in business survival in Christchurch. It is very good to see that mechanism being immediately introduced into Kaikoura, Cheviot, Waiau, Rotherham, Mt Lyford and Ward. This will make a significant and positive difference to affected businesses.
  • We would expect, as was the case in Christchurch, that banks will adopt a very supportive and lenient stance for their customers. Offering additional working capital, delaying loan repayments and being generally supportive of the businesses who are effected by the earthquake directly or indirectly.
  • The Inland Revenue Department effectively provided cashflow support to businesses in Christchurch by delaying payments of GST and provisional tax. We would expect the same thing to happen in this instance.
  • Insurance companies in Christchurch did make fast provisional payments on business interruption insurance and property damage to enable cashflow to be supported.
  • The Government, through its various other agencies, provided support for workers and employees where their companies had indeed collapsed and provided support for recovery operations both in the rural sector and urban precincts.
  • The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce provided a safe pair of hands for business providing internet based support, a call centre and business recovery coordinators that were put out into the community to assist businesses through the challenging times.
  • Businesses helped each other out within and across regions.

We know from the Christchurch experience that these mechanisms combined resulted in minimal business attrition and in fact ensured that through business survival the greater Christchurch community was in good shape to embrace a full-on recovery programme.

The numbers of businesses effected in Hurunui and Kaikoura are much smaller than those impacted in Christchurch but it is just as important that they are supported as they underpin the rural and regional communities in that area. Of course, it is also important that we reinstate appropriate connectivity into the areas within the Hurunui and Kaikoura districts and that involves immediate air and sea support as is already being evidenced. It also involves careful planning to ensure that State Highway 1 and the rail link are options that are considered urgently and strategically. Alternative road access into all the areas will be essential in the short term and it is pleasing to see the emphasis being put on the inland Kaikoura route and the obvious dependency that heavy transport will have on the Lewis Pass in the foreseeable future.

As Hurunui and Kaikoura regenerate themselves their businesses and their infrastructure in the post-earthquake environment they will do so in a way that points to the future as we have done in Christchurch.

The immediate international response to the 14 November earthquake was that once again Christchurch and the South Island had been devastated by a seismic event. Of course, this is blatantly incorrect and we all need to do what we can to ensure that the rest of the world understands what has happened and what it really means for our community. The regeneration of this city has been done in a way to accommodate seismic events and that has proven to be the case with almost no damage in our city as a consequence of the 7.5 seismic event in our region. Tourism will continue to be important for the whole of the South Island and particularly important for the earthquake effected area with both Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura heavily dependent on tourism activity. We need to show the world that although this event has knocked those districts back a little they are getting up and getting going and will still offer some of the most spectacular tourism offerings in the world. We must not let perception get in the way of reality and recovery.