By Shah Karez
The Changing Nature of Work is the theme of the World Bank Report 2019. The report deals in depth with the subject. An attempt is made here to briefly highlight the main issues for the general reader and particularly for the youth of today so that they may be able to see the challenge through the window of technological development and decide about the pursuit of knowledge and skills according to the need of the future. The government has to face the challenge upfront.
In a nutshell the report underlines the need to enhance human capital in accordance with the demands of the technological workplace. This is an age of rapidly changing technology, the skill sets that are considered to be useful and marketable today are also rapidly changing. The speed of this change appears to be alarmingly high in the developed and industrialized countries. In the growing economies also the change is clearly visible. The demand for certain types of non-routine functions in the workplace is increasing such as cognitive and social behavioral skills.
On the other hand robots appear to be taking over the routine job specific functions. Yet a third scenario demands a combination of different skill types. Mr. Andrew Puzder, a former chief executive of a restaurant chain, referring to robotic functions said, “They (robots) are always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”
Certain routine tasks may be difficult for machines to perform such as managing human beings, inter personal relationships, organizing team work, advanced research and analytical work. Machines can easily replace tasks that are routine by type and can be codified. The skill profile in a future workplace would be different from what it is today. The new profile would not be limited to the narrowly defined job specific skills. Skills such as adaptability in a multi-cultural setting, critical thinking and problem-solving ability, creativity, and curiosity are considered to be transferable across jobs.
With increasing innovations and sophistication, the old home appliances are rendered out of fashion thereby shrinking the jobs related with repair maintenance of such items. At the same time innovation, industrialization and technological progress amounts to creating new jobs in millions thereby increasing the demand for new set of skills. The report points out that the change is high in the developed world but in low and middle income countries also people may be employed in jobs that did not exist thirty years ago. For example 4 million app developers, 400000 internationally certified organic farmers and 100000 data labelers are employed respectively in India, Uganda and China.
The report says that the Lady Health Worker Program in Pakistan led to 15% increase in fully immunized children under 3 years old in 2008 as compared to 2000 with positive effects on children’s cognitive abilities and pro-social behaviors due to nutrition supplementation and encouraging mothers to engage in responsive play with children up to age 2.
While going through the report one can feel that innovation and technology are blessings in disguise. It is agreed that increased reliance on technology will cause disruption, the example of robots taking over routine functions is a case in point, yet there is a silver lining as people with the required qualifications and know-how of new technology will have more job opportunities. Therefore the youth of the country who are currently at the beginning of schooling must be groomed with the goal of their future in view since they will be working in jobs that, in the words borrowed from the report, “do not even exist today.”
There will be nothing like permanency in job, but the gig economy, that does change frequently, dictates the nature of job; innovation necessitates new type of skills thereby forcing one to continue learning to keep pace with the market demand. Each passing day without new learning pushes the people backward and no person can keep pace with the change without having the required skills.
The prevailing education system in our country may not be able to produce as much relevant skilled manpower as will be required in the future job market unless the system adapts itself to face the upcoming challenges. Prudent and foresighted educational planning will prepare the human capital to suit the changing situation; otherwise the cost of disruption will be very high leading to high rate of joblessness, rampant poverty and disgruntled youth.
Since Health and Education are considered to be the building blocks of human capital. As a developing economy we need to take quick action and make critical investment in people’s health and education on emergency basis to catch up with the accelerating innovation and to enable our youth to keep pace with innovation and competition in the future job market.
It is a challenge for the PTI government and at the same time pleasing to note that developing human capital is in the agenda of the current government. The sooner it is implemented the better. At the same time it is important to strengthen the social safety net so that the technological disruption and new working patterns do not affect the population adversely. In tandem with massive skill development, the government must guarantee minimum level of social protection across the board. For this purpose there is need to bring about the right kind of reforms, such as stabilizing wages in the informal sector, ensuring social safety at each level, controlling exploitation of child labor, overhauling taxation policies, redirecting subsidies to help in developing human capital.
The government must also encourage the private sector and the NGO world to come forward and play their role in aligning the human capital with the changing need of the time.