The Future of Work: Upskill and Reskill To Survive

What impact will AI and automation have on the labour market? Image/ Jernej Furman- Flickr

We are in a new era. It’s an era where advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation take the center stage. 

Automakers are piloting self-driving cars, machines can now read and interpret X-rays, chatbots are able to respond to customer inquiries, and so much more. What better way for Industry 4.0 to announce itself than with real-time decision-making and improved agility, flexibility, and productivity? The technology-driven world we now live in is very promising. AI and automation will not only lift productivity but also grow economies. That’s why countries are in the race for 5G. 

Yet automation has come with its own fair share of challenges. One of the major concerns about Industry 4.0 is the number of jobs that will be lost to AI and automation. There’s a growing concern in the labor market whether there will still be enough jobs for human beings. 

Valid Concerns

Image/ Sociable

Of course these concerns are valid. Reports already indicate that half of the work done by human beings globally can be automated. 

Up to 30 percent of work can be automated by 2030. This differs from one country to the other depending on factors such as speed of AI adoption, the cost of automation, regulatory and social acceptance. Labor-market dynamics such as the labor required to oversee the automation will also affect Industry 4.0 implementation.

Most countries are already grappling with high rates of job losses due to Covid-19. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), at least 81 million people in Asia and the Pacific alone lost their jobs in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Others will be pushed into underemployment and working poverty. 

In the United States, 20.6 million people lost their jobs between March and May 2020. Canada is just recovering from the effects of the pandemic on its labor market.

Back home in Kenya, it is estimated that at least 1.7 million Kenyans lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 

This is the same situation across many countries. Not only developing nations but also first-world countries. The last thing people want to worry about is losing their jobs to robots and AI. But it seems that the pandemic has only helped to accelerate automation as businesses struggle to adapt to shifting market dynamics.

In Kenya, banks such as the State Bank of Mauritius (SBM) Kenya and Standard Chartered Bank are already laying off employees and closing down branches to pave the way for digitization. 

Bank workers are not the only ones that will feel the impact of automation. Yahoo Finance predicts that real estate agents, taxi drivers, cashiers, travel agents, factory workers, and delivery workers are some of the professions that will become obsolete in the near future. 

Nothing to worry about

Image/ World Economic Forum

AI, robotics, and smart automation have the potential to contribute up to $15 trillion to global GDP in the next ten years. This is according to management consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. The price of automation will be the displacement of many existing jobs.

But it says that demand for many other jobs will be created as well.

Labor market experts say there’s nothing to worry about. According to McKinsey, up to 280 new million jobs could be created globally. There will be increased demand for doctors, nurses, health technicians, nursing assistants, home-health aides, and personal-care aides. 

Besides the healthcare industry, other industries that may experience an increase in labour demand include:

  • Professional services such as accountants, data analysts, scientists, and engineers
  • IT and other technology specialists
  • Senior managers and executives
  • Educators 
  • Creative industry including performers, entertainers, and artists 
  • Construction industry 
  • Manual services such as plumbers and gardeners

However, even the people in these industries will need to upgrade their skills to be able to use the latest technologies. 

It’s believed that more than 11.5 million American workers will have to reskill in order to survive in the workforce. In China, over 50 million employees will need retraining. The same goes for developing nations such as Kenya, Afghanistan, Brazil, Mexico, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey among others. 

Experts say that the labour market has historically been able to adjust to changes in the labour market as a result of technological disruption. Industry 4.0 won’t be any different.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that AI and automation will create 96 million jobs in the next five years across 26 countries. This will be 11 million more jobs than the 85 million that will be declared redundant. 

These are the top roles that will emerge and become redundant in South Africa.  Photo/ WEF

In the United Arabs Emirates (UAE), according to the WEF Future of Jobs Report 2020, there will be increased demand for data analysts and scientists, digital marketers, and business development specialists. Demand for administrative and executive secretaries, data entry clerks, and accounting clerks will reduce significantly. It will be an almost similar case for South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico.

It’s also predicted that technology and automation will break geographical boundaries for the labour market. Organizations will increasingly embrace the concept of remote work and hire employees across borders. Fifty-five percent of businesses globally already allow their employees to work from home. 

So if you feel the ground shifting under your feet, acknowledge that it’s time for change. Employers are opening their doors to a new generation of employees and perspectives into their workforce. Workers who are able to embrace the changes will thrive. This is your time to reskill and upskill. Don’t let it pass.

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