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Want to survive the robot revolution? You need to start from square one

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A WEF study predicts that 54% of employees of the world’s large companies will need significant re- and up-skilling as robots take up more jobs.

New Delhi: The robots are coming for our jobs, and we need to be worried. Or maybe not so much.

As many as 42 per cent of the jobs done by humans currently will be performed by machines as early as 2022, according to a report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) Monday. The figure stands at 29 per cent currently, and is likely to surpass 50 per cent by 2025.

That’s right, the WEF study estimates that more than half the tasks currently performed by humans will be handled by machines within seven years.

The report is based on a survey of 12 industries and 20 developed and emerging economies that collectively represent about 70 per cent of the global GDP, the WEF said. These include India, Pakistan, Canada, the US, Australia, France, and Germany.


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However, the report, Future of Jobs 2018, also paints a bright picture by pointing out that the fourth industrial revolution, as the advent of artificial intelligence is called, will generate 133 million new jobs against the 75 million humans stand to lose by 2022.

To keep up, the report adds, today’s workforce needs to pull up its socks, and re- or up-skill itself: The study predicts that 54 per cent of employees of the world’s large companies will need significant re- and up-skilling “in order to fully harness the growth opportunities of the future”.

“For workers, there is a need to take personal responsibility for their learning trajectory through the current transition and developing a higher degree of comfort with the concept of lifelong learning,” said the WEF in a press release accompanying the report.

The report suggests this is especially for at-risk workers, with the survey finding that employers were reluctant to invest in their adaption. Over half of the companies surveyed said they planned to only re-skill employees in key positions in order to keep up with the robot revolution, while “only one-third planned to re-skill at-risk workers”.


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Even so, the report said it would be in the long-term interest of companies, saying the competition for skilled talent is likely to intensify and prove a costly affair for them.

It also pointed out how the impact will vary across industries. “The future of jobs is not singular, and disparate impacts will be felt across industries depending on initial starting conditions, skills availability, technology adoption and adaptability of the workforce,” the report said.

For example, job losses are expected to be higher for sectors such as mining and metals, consumer and information and technology industries, than companies in professional services.

Among other suggestions, the report stated the need for “coordinated job transition strategies across industries” to tide over such disruptions.

Machinomics

The wave of digitisation and automation is now visible around the world – from cashier-less stores to software that churns out news copy, and plans for cabs and public transport driven by technology.

There’s a great push for a bigger embrace of technology within India too, especially under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign.

According to the survey conducted among Indian firms, the emerging job roles for humans in 2022 include data analysts and scientists, managing directors and chief executives, software and applications developers, human resource specialists, financial advisers.

The emerging skills include analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, creativity, originality and initiative, complex problem-solving, as well as emotional intelligence.

According to the survey, the top three technology elements companies wish to focus on over the next four years are ‘user entity and big data analytics’, ‘internet skills’, and ‘app- and web-based markets’.

Other fields include 3D printing, cloud computing and augmented and virtual reality, as well as digital trade.

However, this shift needs to be made through proper augmentation strategies to ensure minimum disruption, the report suggested.

“Companies need to complement their automation plans with comprehensive augmentation strategies,” said Saadia Zahidi, head of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the WEF.

“For businesses to remain dynamic, differentiated and competitive in an age of machines, they must in fact invest in their human capital,” she added.


Also read: Robots to make life grim for the working class


“There is both a moral and economic imperative to do so. Without proactive approaches, businesses and workers may lose out on the economic potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Zahidi said.

As jobs for humans shift in nature to those that require less mechanical or physical skills and entail distinctly human skills like creativity, critical thinking and persuasion, the WEF said there was an urgent need for the government to address its impact on labour market across industries.

The report suggests various steps to do so, such as an upgraded education system aimed at instilling both technical and soft skills in the future workforce; social policies aimed at supporting an ecosystem of lifelong learners; safety nets for managing the social impact of workforce transformations; and stimulating job creation by taking into account local and global demand for emerging roles and skills.

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