Nilekani is right: Jobs won’t exist if India fails to reskill for automation era | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Nilekani is right: Jobs won’t exist if India fails to reskill for automation era

analysis Updated: Oct 05, 2016 21:14 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times
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Maruti uses more than 1,000 robots, and other car-makers are doing the same. Most manufacturing jobs are turning contractual. Even the IT industry is automating lower-end jobs (AFP)

In an interview to PTI on Monday, Infosys co-founder and former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India Nandan Nilekani warned that a lot of “jobs that exist today will not exist in future” because automation, machine-learning, artificial intelligence and bots are coming in a big way not only in software but also in BPO and manufacturing sectors. He added that the education system has to respond to the challenge of this ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by becoming innovative and creative.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a profound technological revolution which has the potential to disrupt not only our work life, but essentially how humans live and relate to one another.

Read: Is India ready for the fourth industrial revolution?

Nilekani is not the only one warning India about this looming challenge. At this year’s Jaipur Literature Fest, chairman and managing director of Biocon Limited Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said: “The new sunrise areas are artificial intelligence, renewable energy and automation. We must exploit these new sectors, especially renewable energy. The opportunity is immense. We cannot miss the buss,” she told an audience of young people.

Read: Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In January, the World Economic Forum, which holds its annual jamboree in Davos, released a report titled ‘Future of Jobs’. The report had an interesting take on the jobs that will cease to exist because of the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on industries.

According to report, the net negative industries include ‘Office and Administrative’ sector where an estimated 4.8 million people are going to be adversely impacted between 2015 and 2020. Similarly, another major loser will be the ‘manufacturing and production’ sector where an estimated 1.6 million people are going to be adversely impacted.

Three kinds of skills are needed to survive in the brave new world: First, cognitive abilities (like creativity, problem solving, logical reasoning, etc.) and physical abilities (like Physical Strength, Manual Strength, etc.); second, basic skills that include content skills and process skills (critical thinking, active listening); and third, cross-functional skills, which includes social skills, systems skills, complex problem solving skills, resource management skills and technical skills.

To address these challenges, as Nilekani and others have been saying , the education and skilling system has to change. But that’s where India’s problem is. Our education policy is decades old and the new one is still stuck in the HRD ministry; the ministry is yet to appoint a point person to do the draft on the new policy. What came out earlier as a ‘draft’ (done by the TSR Subramanian Committee ) is now being called an ‘input’ after the controversy it generated.

The ‘input’, however, spoke of the problem of skill shortage among graduates. “While the problem of educated unemployed youth remains acute, there is also, paradoxically, a shortage of skilled manpower in the labour market. There a clear gap between the focus and quality of education in academia and the actual skills required by industry,” it said.

Read: TSR Subramanian Committee report

“While it is hard to forecast precisely what the future will be like, it is important to look at some of the implications of this significant technological change and right now there is not much discussion on it at the government-level,” said Sankalp Sharma, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Competitiveness.

“I have an engineering background and I can tell you the syllabus is mired in the past. The education system is absolutely not aligned with these challenges though technology is leapfrogging”.

He added that the education system has to align with needs of needs of the industry.

Read: Can India have a future without critical thinkers?

At Jaipur, Mazumdar-Shaw had talked about the need to innovate and why it is doesn’t happen in India: “The country has the innovation quotient but the regulatory and financial ecosystem to foster them and raise it to the international level. But there is a huge standoff between business and science… while business thinks scientists are not doing enough, the scientists are have limited market exposure,” she said.

Like its previous versions, the fourth industrial revolution will also be a disrupter and could lead to social turmoil. With agriculture becoming a non-profitable exercise and aspirations rising, young people are looking/ will look towards jobs outside the sector. But there aren’t many either in the private sector or the government sector. The situation will only aggravate with large-scale automation .

And, as senior journalist R Jagannathan wrote in Hindustan Times, we have probably witnessed a trailer of sorts in the Patidar, Jat and the Maratha protests.

Three things, he wrote, have fuelled their angst: Fragmented land holding, Internet and urbanization, and most importantly, automation of the shop floor. For example, in the automobile industry, Maruti uses more than 1,000 robots, and other car-makers are doing the same. Most manufacturing jobs are turning contractual. Even the IT industry is automating lower-end jobs.

If this is the scenario now, the future indeed doesn’t look rosy; unless, of course, India refurbishes its education and skills training system.

Read: The 2016 Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture

And who best than S Ramadorai, Chairman, National Skill Development Corporation & National Skill Development Agency, to deliver a wake-up call.

“I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for us to make changes in our education system NOW. We will be doing a disservice to our youth if we do not provide them with the knowledge, life skills and technical skills to become productive citizens of India and indeed the world. We must provide them with the best opportunity that the future will offer,” he said at the 2016 Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture earlier this year.

@kumkumdasgupta