Not the Fear to Lose Jobs, But the Desire to Learn New Skills Will Drive Automation

Nowadays, there is buzz about jobs crunch due to automation in various industries. Sameer Bora, Executive Vice President, Next Education India Pvt Ltd, observes the scenario and tries to find out the solutions for youth to handle any such situation.

Sameer Bora, Executive Vice President, Next Education India Pvt Ltd
Sameer Bora, Executive Vice President, Next Education India Pvt Ltd

Reports have predicted that 50% of the present jobs will be lost to automation, and to stay relevant at their workplaces, employees will have to upskill themselves. While the bit about upskilling is true, the panic about automation replacing human labour might be misplaced and hyped. First, we need to note that while technology is replacing old jobs, it is also creating new ones. Second, the need for skilling has always existed in all sectors of employment. Previously, the core responsibilities of an employee would change after a 20-year period. This period has now been reduced to 10 years. This length of time will be reduced further to 5-6 years in the near future. Thus, the process of unlearning and relearning needs to happen at a faster pace now.

Automation of jobs – what is it?

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has brought forth technological innovation in all aspects of life. Once computers are programmed and large sets of data are fed into them, the machines learn on their own how to perform a designated task. The machines even improve over time as they build upon their own learning to be more intelligent. The need to explicitly program them also disappears, as they learn how to function independently. The automation of jobs involves the use of machines and robots, or technology in short, to monitor and control the production and the delivery of products and services. This definitely helps in completing a task faster, and perhaps more accurately too. Another important aspect of automation that is worth mentioning here is that automation does not really replace jobs. 20-25% of a particular task is automated, but human intervention is still needed to complete the entire process.

Implications of this technological disruption

The report titled “Skilling for Digital Relevance”, published by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) last year, informs us that as long as the growth in the output is higher than the “rate of reduction of jobs due to automation, net employment will continue to grow.” Therefore, the panic is uncalled for. However, the importance of workforce reskilling cannot be overstated, as the jobs that are being created and the ones that are being lost to automation are of different kinds. For instance, there would be no need to process orders manually anymore, but what about the insights that I get from the huge chunk of data being generated with automation? This creates a need for an analyst, who would be able to analyse the data, figure out the regions in which the orders are fluctuating, and devise strategies to have better outcomes. This kind of a role is going to be imperative in businesses.

How to tackle the changes

The report correctly points out that “the IT sector is not only driving these changes, but is itself impacted by it.” In fact, this is true for all sectors—health, infrastructure, education, and so on—that will be impacted by the automation of jobs and is not limited to the IT sector. The Human Resource (HR) department might face a couple of challenges, such as the realigning of the workforce. Every workplace needs to have a performance appraisal of employees at regular intervals to keep them updated about their progress and mitigate gaps, if any.

Also, the employees need to understand that they have to combine the knowledge pertaining to their domain with technology skills to succeed at a workplace. For this, the employees need to upskill themselves. However, the way skilling is perceived is often erroneous. Skilling does not mean becoming faster at work. Nobody can be as fast as a machine, and the comparison is neither desirable nor relevant. Skilling is not about improving efficiency, but about acquiring a new skill set. As mentioned previously, it is about making a professional journey from one role to another. For instance, a person formerly working as an order processor can work as an analyst by upskilling.

Rethinking workforce upgradation

The hype about automation replacing human labour has led to a lot of misconceptions. First, it is important to clarify that employees themselves can understand the need to upskill themselves, and skilling is not a top-down decision. Recently, an employee approached and asked me to automate a process to reduce the workload and shared his experience in acquiring new skills by taking online tutorial classes. Thus, the desire to learn is stronger and can lead to the automation process. This actually contradicts the popular perception that the fear of losing jobs is forcing people to take up upskilling.

People might be scared of a future where robots handle communications, conduct legal research and manage customers in a pizza place. It is erroneously perceived that robots will take over human labour completely, and only a few humans with extraordinary capabilities will stand a chance to compete with automation. However, an in-depth analysis of history and economy informs us that if growth in the economy is observed, old jobs may be lost, but new jobs will be created to meet the increase in demand. For example, 21 million jobs are lost in the US every year due to tech, and the business changes to create 23 million new jobs. Therefore, the fear in the job market is a little unfounded.

In fact, it might be empowering to imagine a future where a robot carries out the duties of a present manual scavenger. It is important to bring forth automation in jobs, such as mining, where the life of humans is at risk.

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