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Technology, the fuel for employment

• Technological transformations create significant value for producers, consumers & other stakeholders, thereby reshaping value chains across the globe.
• While technology has definitely made our lives easier, there are fears that it has become a threat to the human race as automation might lead to mass unemployment.
• However, such fears are misplaced as it is quite implausible for automation to annihilate complete occupations. According to EY, digital technology will contribute 20% to India’s nominal GDP, sustaining 60-65 million jobs by 2025.
• To navigate this dynamic business environment & tap the abounding opportunities that these technologies offer, we need to impart new skills & training to workers. 

Medicine, health, banking, agriculture, logistics, education, retail, energy – there’s hardly any sector that has not been smitten by the zeal for innovation or left unimpacted by the imprints of technology. In fact, with the advent of a wave of interesting technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud computing, robotics and blockchain technology, staying abreast and adapting to dynamic technology trends is the linchpin to the success of any economic/scientific venture.

What makes this a stepping stone for any commercial enterprise’s success is the fact that technological transformations create significant value for producers, consumers & other stakeholders, thereby reshaping value chains across the globe. For example, travelling the world is now literally just a click away as various things such as visa appointments, making hotel reservations and buying tickets to visit prominent destinations on your itinerary can be conveniently done through the internet. Similarly, thanks to the GPS, commuting on an unknown route has become easier. Also, the proliferation of laptops, tablets, and smartphones has created flexible work environments like freelancing, work-on-demand, and work-from-home.

While technology has definitely made our lives easier, propelled economic growth and enhanced our standard of living, there are some who fear that technology has become a threat to the human race. One of the apprehensions cited for this is that technologies like automation and robotics might lead to job destruction and technological unemployment. However, such fears are misplaced according to the Global Commission on the Future of Work (ILO, 2017). As the organisation explains, such assessments tend to overestimate the potential adverse effects of automation by ignoring the economic feasibility of these options. Further, it is quite implausible for automation to annihilate complete occupations.

There are quite a few examples to validate this observation. One oft cited example is the introduction of ATMs in US in the 1970s. Albeit it was widely anticipated that ATMs would put an end to the need of bank tellers, in reality, there was an increase in the number of bank tellers in America. Similarly, in France, within 15 years of the introduction of internet, about 1.2 million new jobs were created. According to ILO, the shrinking operational & transactional costs owing to these technological innovations can stimulate the demand for a range of tasks; for example a financial services advisor. This is something which was even evident in Henry Ford’s assembly line production – not only did the division of labour create an efficient system of production which brought down the number of working hours & the cost of production significantly; it also led to the creation of new types of employment opportunities (white collar jobs) like supervisors and managers.  

Closer home, it is estimated that digital technology will contribute 20% to India’s nominal GDP, sustaining 60-65 million jobs by 2025. Thus, India can be a major game-changer in this global digital ecosystem, provided it nurtures this fledgling system. When translated into numbers, according to the reports, just over 40% of the population has internet subscription today. At the same time, this seismic shift will require retraining, reskilling and redeploying workers since some occupations will be rendered obsolete and some new ones will be created. But overall, this job creation will compensate technological unemployment, provided this shift is effectively managed.

To navigate the labour market & tap the abounding opportunities that these technologies offer, India needs to evolve education systems and learning, which is well suited to the changing needs of the workplace. Imparting knowledge and quality education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields is one of the first and foremost ways of doing this.

The government could take a cue from United Kingdom’s Technical & Vocational Education & Training, launched in 2016 to integrate skills and higher education at the level of policy, funding and implementation. In India, a  similar model is being practiced by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) – TISS ’s School of Vocational Education (TISS-SVE) started in 2012, with a Rs 10 crore grant from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Over the years, the programme has enabled employment for over 5,000 students. An investment in skilling youth is an investment in the future of India. 

A research by Simplilearn & People Matters covering over 100 leading enterprises across sectors revealed that while 87% of companies agreed on the importance of digital skilling of their workforce, 65% did not have a clear roadmap to achieve this goal. Companies should be active stakeholders in imparting training & education to workers to prepare them for the digital age, by orchestrating training sessions, seminars, internship programmes and workshops for their employees. They could also motivate employees to undertake such short term courses by linking training outcomes to career progression.

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