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Technology will surely kill some jobs, but not all of them

jobBy Mayank Kumar and Apoorva Shankar

“Remember that dystopian view of the future in which technology displaces millions of people from their jobs? It’s happening” Jeff Weiner, CEO LinkedIn, wrote when Microsoft announced it was acquiring LinkedIn.

Some of the top companies in the world such as handset maker Foxconn, US-based retail company Walmart and McDonald’s are now turning to robots and automation. It’s true that some jobs may become defunct as this shift becomes more pronounced. At the same time, these technologies doubtless offer lots of opportunities for many other types of jobs such as digital curation and preservation, data mining and big data analytics.

The shift of skills in jobs

Most industries in India and around the world are undergoing a digital transformation, and skills to utilise emerging technologies like mobility, cloud computing, business intelligence, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and nanotechnology among others are gaining popularity. In fact, the World Economic Forum estimates that (pdf) 65% of children entering school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist.

For example, demand for data analysts — a relatively new occupation — increased by almost 90% by the end of 2014 within a year. Many big e-commerce players, credit firms, airlines, hospitality, BFSI and retail industries already use analytics in a major way. In India, the analytics and business intelligence industry together is sized around 10 billion and is expected to grow by 22% to 26.9 billion by 2017.

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Human cognition will be in demand in the automation age

When we speak of manual work being supplanted by technology, we must keep in mind that routine jobs are most susceptible to being replaced by automation. And while non-cognitive and routine work is decreasing, knowledge-oriented work is increasing. The demand for labour adept at managing such technology is on the rise – a trend that is likely to intensify as our processes become more technologically complex and disruptive.

Humans are discovering newer ways of enhancing their productivity and efficiency. Most of the pattern-driven work is slowly getting automated as technology presents new ways to speed it up. But this doesn’t mean humans will be useless. They will be the ones who will need to identify problems and ask the right questions.

Demand for newer jobs will remain

History shows us that jobs have consistently been rendered obsolete with the advent of technology and machines. When the washing machine was invented, those who professionally hand-washed clothes faced large-scale unemployment and redundancy. People had to learn a more complex skill in a similar area or enter a new profession altogether. Similarly, drivers may be out of jobs if driverless cars become a norm in the future but other jobs that require manufacturing, programming and sale of such cars will have high demand. This is the way old jobs metamorphose into new ones and the economy learns to keep up.

India ripe for tech driven roles

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The world is set for a technology boom with information technology jobs expected to grow by 22% through 2020 — and India is one of the leaders of the troupe. To capitalise, young job-seekers have to train themselves and take charge of technology-driven roles such as product managers, application developers, data analysts and digital marketers among others. And the rising number of startups in India, especially in the online space, provides a fertile ground. In fact, software startups in India are going to create 80,000 jobs by the following year itself.

So jobs that seem to be at risk, may be like molecules – splitting further and creating more jobs – just of a different kind. Instead of worrying about unemployment, those entering the workforce need to keep one finger on the pulse of evolving technology, and invest in training themselves to acquire new skill sets.

Mayank Kumar is the co-founder & CEO of UpGrad, an online education company. Before founding UpGrad, Mayank was VP Education at Bertelsmann.

Apoorva Shankar is the business development associate at UpGrad. Prior to UpGrad, Apoorva was a legislative and policy analyst at PRS Legislative Research.

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