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Navigating a fuzzy tomorrow: The future of jobs

A look at many economic and technology journals in the last few months is painting a sort of Artificial Intelligence doomsday scenario. Many authors and technology journalists writing about the oncoming tsunami called “Industry 4.0” or the Fourth Industrial revolution, begin with wondering how cyber-based, smart systems, driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, automation and robotics and smart machines are taking over almost all the routine jobs – testers, lawyers, teachers, assembly line workers, quality check professionals and even bank tellers.

But let’s try to look at it with much more sanity and resilience – with a caveat however.


Yes, some of the jobs are indeed getting lost to automation, robotics and basic artificial intelligence systems. Publicly available media reports say:

·        Larsen & Toubro terminated 14,000 employees or 11.2% of its workforce in just one year.

·        HDFC bank eliminated 4,500 jobs in just one quarter attributing it to “increased efficiency and productivity” by way of introduction of humanoids for automating banking operations, including cash deposit, foreign exchange transactions, and loans.

·        Infosys went on record that it let go of 9,000 people last year because of automation.

·        Ola, Askme, and Flipkart and a few others accounted for over 10,000 job losses in the past one year.

·        And Citibank has warned that robotics and automation could eliminate 30% of the global banking jobs by 2025—with no reason to believe that India could be an exception.


Clearly the trends have already begun. Head hunters, recruiters, campus leaders and HR heads of large and medium size IT service companies, which in the past 10 years have been recruiting fresh campus graduates in hoards from large campuses, are now rolling back the numbers.

A look at news reports in the past one or two months speaking about campus recruitments, and the way India’s $150 billion IT services industry is looking at the near future, talk about how graduates recruitment has been progressively coming down from 150,000 in a given year to about 70,000 over the last 3 – 4 years. 

"Progressively, hiring from campus is coming down year on year between 15 per cent and 20 per cent," a head-hunter was quoted as saying. "Getting a job in IT will become much more difficult with time."


Clearly, the reports say that automation is eating up a lot of entry-level jobs. Analysts say that many IT roles will soon become redundant due to the impact of automation on these jobs.


A staffing company’s co-founder was quoted in a magazine as saying: “Unquestionably, the technology industry is undergoing a major shift to new business and operating models - driven by artificial intelligence, mobile, analytics, cloud and Internet of Things.”

These developments are challenging the capabilities of growth players in every industry – from services to manufacturing to financial sector and even legal services portfolios.


The World Economic Forum, about a year ago predicted that routine jobs in areas like office administration, manufacturing, construction, entertainment, legal/para-legal services, banking and financial services, installation and maintenance services will all decline fast, especially in the coming 30 years.


However, the WEF report tempered the scenario, noting that new jobs and new roles will get created in domains such as business and financial services, management services, computing and mathematical related areas, architecture, sales and engineering, and technology services.


However, these jobs would require a new set of competencies – and unfortunately few institutions are offering courses that help tomorrow’s workforce. So what are these new competencies?


Before we look at the new competencies and new jobs that are emerging, we need to understand what this Industry 4.0 is about: 


A trend that began in 2015, and is still maturing, has given rise to new disciplines like robotics, autonomous transport, self-driven cars, machine learning, biotechnology and genomics powered by data and nano materials, 3D printing, etc.


These may look like isolated trends now, but by 2020, all these would collectively transform the way we live, work, and do business. Some of the existing jobs will disappear completely. Some of the work we do today, which looks like “fun” – use Facebook to make political ranks, or search for poems about cats, or chat with a distant cousin in Nairobi – will all become smarter and more complicated.


Connected devices (Internet of Things), 3D printing (which will seriously impact small scale downstream industries and logistics companies); genomics (giving rise to new drugs), robotics (which can take away the routine, dreary, monotonous, repeatable jobs in manufacturing and services industries) will coalesce giving rise to completely new business models and roles.


These new models will challenge human capacity to innovate. History of industrial revolutions displays how humans have always found new ways of creating innovative jobs: In the early 70s when ATMs were first invented, people predicted the dire end of teller jobs in banks. But the entire banking and financial services industry has only grown hundreds of times over and over again, creating new roles like investment banking, wealth management, industrial credit and innovative instruments of fund management and in the money market.


However, the radical threat of the emerging cyber-based automated system certainly calls for a new inventory of skills that only humans can perform or exhibit – and with much superiority over machines and robots:


Some examples of human centered new competencies are: critical thinking, creativity; fuzzy problem solving; managing human relationships with customers; judging and decision making, managing people, showing cognitive flexibility (the human brain’s ability to switch between two problems); and sharp negotiations….


Thus in the foreseeable future, jobs that require these skills: data analytics; creative arts; administrations; managing people, architecture, cyber security et al will have to be performed by human beings.


So, if you are a young graduate looking to create a career, take up courses in these areas like Big Data; Machine Learning; Media and Arts; Economics; Business Management; Network Security; Design Thinking, human centred Marketing …


And naturally, the future is yours!

 K. Ramachandran, heads Strategy for 361Degree Minds

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