Employment 2: Technology Will Drive Value Added-jobs
The pace of change, especially technological change, has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.
In the early 1900s, it was the Luddites smashing weaving machines. These days, retail staff worry about automatic checkouts. Professional drivers are already fretting over self-driving cars and trucks.
There is no denying the fact automation has been decimating more and more jobs every year. From supermarket cashiers to postal workers and travel agents, industries and jobs that were considered mainstays barely a decade ago are vanishing rapidly.
McKinsey Global Institute predicts that as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation by 2030. In India, 5.7 crore jobs may be displaced by automation by 2030, the report predicts. It is feared that automation could gain further steam in 2018, rendering nearly 70 per cent of the Indian workforce irrelevant.
The employment picture
Innovation is actually creating jobs faster than automation and technology are destroying them. Entirely new industries have emerged in recent years, creating jobs that didn't exist ten years ago - app developers, YouTube content creators, social media managers and data scientists, to name a few.
India is perhaps the most prominent example of this trend. Nasscom, the apex body of the IT industry, said that tech startups, e-commerce, Digital India and digital payments are creating new opportunities for growth. Acknowledging that increasing automation may eat up a section of the jobs, but new areas such as Cybersecurity, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc are creating new job opportunities.
Findings from the recent McKinsey report also indicates that for all the jobs that will be lost to automation in the next 13 years, hundreds of millions of new jobs will be created in response to emerging economies, aging populations and technology development.
Knock on benefits of tech
There are two secondary factors often forgotten or misunderstood, which some economists have long realised. The first is the knock-on benefits that come with higher productivity. Companies are able to invest more, hire more, produce more, lower prices, and consumers are able to purchase more. Perhaps more importantly, there are the secondary jobs enabled by technology which would either not exist or are enabled and multiplied by technology. The gig economy pioneered by the likes of Uber and AirBnB, is a popular example of this.
Advanced technologies like AI will spawn new jobs and fears around job losses are misplaced. IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was recently quoted in a media interview, "If a person is not up to date in new technology, then he may have a problem. You have to be tuned to the new technology," he warned.
Nasscom identified 55 new job roles and 155 new-age skill that would be required for the future. Big data and analytics are two major areas opening up and are expected to grow eightfold to $16 billion by 2025, with a spurt in demand for business analysts, solution architects, data integrators, data architects, data analysts and data scientists. Data from HR firm Kelly's Services shows a 15% increase in hospitality, 8% increase in retail and an 18% reduction in IT jobs in 2017. Companies in the information technology are realigning and re-skilling their workforce to address this rapidly changing requirement. The changing norms of up-skilling are soon to be followed in other sectors as well thus creating a plethora of new aged jobs.
Up the job value and skill chain
Technology is also enabling some long-established industries and helping them evolve in the 21st century. The more than a century old direct selling industry, which has produced millions of micro-entrepreneurs around the world was founded on the principles of people connecting with each other. With technology seamlessly connecting people and products across international borders, the industry has exploded in recent years. Malaysian entrepreneur Vijay Eswaran, Executive Chairman of the QI Group, one of those businesses is in direct selling recently commented on this in an Op-Ed on a European policy website. "It is important to remember that technology isn't creating jobs: people are. But the opportunities would not exist without technology. Technology enabled our network of entrepreneurs to go out and sell products to many more people in remote places, making money for themselves and creating income opportunities for people in countries from Ghana to India to Indonesia."
Clarissa Shen, COO of Udacity whose revenues stood at $71 million in 2017, also stresses on the need of re-skilling. "People should reskill themselves and go after new opportunities. As a company, we do not want to be complacent and we want to tell people that they can succeed by learning. I have great examples from the largest telecom provider in India, where kids picked up Udacity courses in free Wifi zones in their stores, picked up on skills and ultimately changed their lives by getting engineering jobs that finally helped their families."
To sum up, technology innovations are spurring jobs faster than they are destroying them, but the need of re-skilling is a reality that people will need to address to stand against the face of automation. As Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada in his address at Davos put it: "The pace of change, especially technological change, has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again."