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Which Skills for future Jobs?

Can AI bring innovation? It certainly cannot create something from scratch like we do. We can postulate, we can create new mathematical theorems, we can sing, we can create music, we can think out of box and we can do many more. AI cannot. It works best with human collaboration.

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Can machines learn? Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) take over our lives? Should we be worried about natural stupidity more than AI? Lot is being said and written about Automation, Robotics and Machine learning. Future will see several new jobs emerge in each of these areas and also areas that define their intersections or overlaps. Suppose machines learn from past experiences using historical data, supervised or semi-supervised, to solve a given problem. It means they use different algorithms with specific input data to realise a desired goal. Is this not much the same as how we learn? Or is it another form of programming? The basic difference is that instead of programmatic implementation of a logic or algorithm, a trained model is often used. We now have a confluence of Mechanical, Electronics, Computer science, Materials and several other fields. The new graduate must understand the interplay between them, as much as understanding each one of them. Therein lie the opportunity for new job roles. 

AI, Automation and Robotics are bringing about major changes in the markets. The key to decode them is to acquire appropriate skills and knowledge. Besides Robotic process automation (RPA) and AI, there are many others like cloud, mobile applications development, Internet of Things etc. that are redefining the business space. With the government’s massive push towards digital technology and with innovation in the Indian IT markets, lakhs of jobs can be created in the years to come. 

Can AI bring innovation? It certainly cannot create something from scratch like we do. We can postulate, we can create new mathematical theorems, we can sing, we can create music, we can think out of box and we can do many more. AI cannot.  It works best with human collaboration.

Where will the new jobs manifest? Automation testing in software industry, Business Process Automation, Industrial Automation, Control and Robotics Process Automation (RPA) are all areas to reckon with for they will extensively use AI and the new technologies in future. AI has serious applications in image processing, translating languages, speaking, navigating through maps, predicting crop yields, diagnosing diseases, verifying user identities, managing financial decisions etc. Each one of these have potential to create thousands of jobs.

Business Process Automation (BPA) uses technology to execute recurring tasks and processes such as employee onboarding or generating purchase orders to minimize costs, increase efficiency, and streamline processes. In an industry where quality and price sensitivity matter over everything else, where high-volume tasks that are time sensitive and need multiple people to execute are performed, where there is a significant impact on other processes and systems and need compliance and audit trails, BPA is the only answer. Only then will they be able to improve product quality, boost factory efficiency, stay competitive, enhance safety, security and sustainability, and make some profits. The resulting ecosystem will have a huge impact on new employment opportunities.  

Who will bring about this change? The answer is Industry 4.0. We heard of industrial automation. We will now see flexible factories which enable flexible production by allowing smart factories to rapidly changeover production lines and shorten lead times. This will need industry to adopt industrial internet of things (IIoT) and digitalization.

Today, most of the large companies are automating higher-order tasks with AI assist, which in the past required perceptual and judgement capabilities of humans, only possible if we combine RPA with cognitive technologies such as machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language processing. That cognitive abilities are sought to be automated is a commentary on the indomitable human spirit that can lead the ‘atmanirbharata’ story.  Simply put, any process can be automated as long as its operating procedure is available. The key to flawless execution is a robust system design.  

IBM defines Robotic process automation, as ‘the use of software bots to automate highly repetitive, routine tasks normally performed by knowledge workers.’ It is already in use in many areas. Be it the online shopping site or the online credit card application processing, RPA plays an important role ensuring that our digital experience is glitch free and smooth. There are many transaction-based industries that are increasingly adopting RPA tools to increase their efficiency and reduce errors. Even in the area of software testing, regression or large-scale, automation can be implemented to save cost and time. 

There are several applications within the Banking and Financial Services sectors. If the vendor data is to be read, validated and the transactions enabled, RPA is the real service provider. It verifies the information related to customers and of the services they require, wherein automated chat bots respond to their queries. The entire KYC is RPA driven.  

How often have we had to register ourselves or our friends or our own, for appropriate healthcare in hospitals or manage claims of insurance? Every hospital has to manage patient appointments which can be difficult at times. RPA does the recording and also validates patient information. Even the retail industry uses RPA in almost all its applications. For instance, online shopping sites use it to perform various tasks such as payment processing, inventory management, customer service etc.

Our country has two advantages as far as the global RPA market is concerned. We have both the workforce and the innovative capabilities required for RPA and we can be the global hub for RPA. However, our educational sector, our institutions, our universities must meet the soaring demand for new technology professionals with impart of adequate skill sets. Even the government must promote the EdTech companies which provide unique solutions in an everchanging IT market space. 

Advances in robotics, AI, and machine learning are driving a new age of automation, where machines match or outperform human performance in a range of work activities that include cognitive capabilities. McKinsey Global Institute reported that ‘people will need to continue working alongside machines to produce the growth in per capita GDP to which countries around the world aspire and that the productivity estimates assume that people displaced by automation will find other employment’. They further anticipate that the shift in the activities in the labour force will be of a similar order of magnitude as the long-term shift away from agriculture and decreases in manufacturing share of employment. New types of work not foreseen would replace the ones that are lost. The context is US but is equally true for us.  

Certainly, the base of the pyramid of employment markets is being disrupted. The base is shrinking with less and lesser numbers required at the base. Even those required at the base must possess high and higher order of skills. Though new set of skills are required in an ever-changing market place, one needs to skill, reskill and upskill all the time and also be painfully aware of artificial idiocy. But then is that not the spirit of ‘atmanirbharata’? The government on its side must enable the new ecosystem with as little pain as possible to all concerned. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr. S.S. Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present, he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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