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Wadhwani Foundation

The Future Of Our Past

By October 22, 2016June 5th, 2020One Comment

The think-tanks around the world are busy writing on the future of jobs. The apocalypse that’s imminent. The millions of jobs that will be lost to the combined forces of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, internet of things, genomics and so on. And fewer million jobs, which it would create in an altogether new space, unknown hitherto to mankind. And that’s exactly how humanity has dealt with each industrial revolution and moved on. Jobs will get redefined and redistributed, and we need to prepare ourselves for that. Bottom line – how do we avoid the Luddites coming in, all over again?!

So, what exactly is happening? Simple…the bits are coming closer to the atoms. That is, the digital world and the physical world are coming together. Everything known to mankind is therefore up for a redefinition. Cars are going to be computers on wheels. Inventory management will be out-placed with 3-D printing. Broad-spectrum anti-biotics will give way to personalized medicine. Consumption of software assisting professionals in every possible field will be ubiquitous. The list goes on. It would genuinely make thousands and millions jobless, with smarter machines taking over with learnability skills matching the human abilities. While it would open up newer areas of opportunity for the specialized skills, the worrying part is the majority who would get displaced. Now, how do we create jobs for the millions and impact lives? Jobs that will last the downturn…

Let’s dig our past and take a lesson or two for our future. What fundamentally should we rethink? What domains will be mainstream that will dominate job market? I don’t think there are easy answers. Researchers, economists, techies, demographers and social scientists would have predicted by now and the preparations would have started the world over, as like it did for Y2K crisis. We simply don’t know what we don’t know, and how the tsunami will hit us.

At the early stages of each of the previous revolutions, capital seemed to have made the most benefits. Labour got impacted hard in the early stages, to catch up later as it went through the period of revolution. To take the example of Britain, that was at the forefront of an industrial revolution, income levels tripled between the years 1875 to 1975, whereas it tripled from 1570 to 1875 in the pre-industrial times. And, it did not end up eliminating the need for human workers. To The key question, therefore, is how do we manage the early life-cycle of disruption and eliminate the gap, or at least minimize for folks at the bottom of the pyramid?

In absence of a perfect recipe or a silver bullet, I believe the rethink has to happen in a careful selection of what skills we develop and how we develop them? That would be a good starting point. Can we focus on job roles that are likely to be in demand, as economies make progression? While there will be more wealth and less time in the hands of some, industries will emerge that will help manage time on their behalf. For example, the role of Health care associates and Beauty & Wellness program will stay evergreen. And importantly, whether they would have the agility and learnability skills to pick up newer techniques in this space so that they stay relevant. So, the way they learn these skills will be key to future adaptation. A construction/lab based learning is more effective than an overdose of class-room based instructions. Therefore, we need to change the way we learn. In this day and age, modern learning methods driven by self-consumption, facilitated learning, peer group level practicums will change this paradigm. We urge policymakers and educators to start looking at these aspects.

So, we need to learn how we learn. And if we can crack that, we will always be ready to embrace the future. Rather build a future of our past, in the future!

Suman Sasmal

Author Suman Sasmal

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  • Abhijit Bhattacharya says:

    Excellent piece. Every organization, not only educational institution, need to brainstorm around the suggested ideas.

    In our notoriously centralized education sector, an environment has to be created for experimenting with different learning systems (if possible, according to learning style of each individual), right from the primary to tertiary levels. With high rate of obsolescence of knowledge, on one hand and knowledge becoming the most critical input on real time basis to the actual production process, on the other, the policymakers, business leaders and educators must figure out how to bring formal education from the classroom to the shop-floor.

    Since the ongoing IV Industrial Revolution is set to eliminate a large number of jobs, many requiring fairly high level of cognition, it is essential to prepare and categorize an existing list of jobs (which has to be a continuous activity) as per their chances of survival. This is hugely important, particularly for many developing countries, like India, that are already staring at a demographic disaster. At one end, people should be provided quality training on those skills that are least likely to be immediately eliminated by the emerging technologies. From lawn mowing to residential renovation, there exist a huge range of revenue-generating alternatives for the future job seekers. At the same time, we also need to come up with new skills development initiatives in some of the highly sought-after-jobs of yesteryears (like auditing, telemarketing, retail salesperson, real estate agents and many other “cognitive” jobs) to prevent these people falling off the cliff, .

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