It’s not human versus robot

Technology is ushering in a new age of automation. Every day, across industries, smarter machines are deployed to manage the growing scale of work.

Computer technology has eliminated some tasks and lowered the demand for some workers. A recent study by McKinsey & Company estimates that almost half of all current tasks are subject to automation, providing fodder for the argument that widespread technology-induced unemployment is impending. However, computers can play an oversized role only in five percent of occupations, eliminating all tasks currently performed by humans. In the remaining 95 percent of the occupations, there will still be plenty of tasks for humans to perform, says the study. Automation in these occupations will have created new tasks for humans. It can be easily assumed healthcare, manufacturing, retail, banking and auditing will be among sectors that are first to adopt automation in its infancy. Certain forms of automation will be skill-based, aimed at raising the productivity of high-skill workers, and at the same time, reducing the demand for low-skill and middle-skill workers.

It however has to be borne in mind that automation creates efficiencies that lower production costs, thereby stimulating demand and creating more jobs. Examples include ATM machines leading to increased bank teller employment, and cost savings created by robots actually leading to greater human employment in warehouses. In the overall economy, automation has led to a greater need for non-routine, high-skill work that pays high wages and also for low-skill work that pays lower wages. Against this backdrop, we should seek to make computers and humans co-partners.

On the computer side, this means creating programmes that augment human skills. As described by IBM data scientists, humans and machines will “need to collaborate to produce better results, each bringing their own superior skills to the partnership.”

On the human side, people have to be trained for tasks computers cannot perform. This means prioritizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. But that’s not the only solution. Upskilling and reskilling employees is critical for businesses. Challenge to reskilling will be stiff as new jobs will keep replacing old ones at a rapid pace. And, upskilling will be made challenging by the fact that much of what students learn in a technical course at college will become outdated when they reach the employment stage.

With job requirements in state of flux, the future will witness a greater demand for multi-skilled employees who have the necessary foundation to be able to pick up new skills fast.

But, there will still be some workers who will not be able to gain the skills necessary to address new challenges. The ultimate challenge lies in ensuring that the number of such employees is really low.

By – Ritesh Gandotra , Director Global Document Outsourcing , Xerox India


Publication                     The Hindu
                                      29th November, 2017
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