Last week, we explored the threat of automation and how we should constantly change our perceptions and way of life according to the times.

But, doomsday isn’t around the corner. So, let us not get our knickers into a twist yet. If there is something that we can derive optimism from, it is that history has shown that technology always generates more jobs than it destroys.


In an analysis of several Asian countries conducted between 2005 and 2015, the Asia Development Bank discovered that technology had resulted in the loss of 101 million jobs, but in turn created 134 million new ones.


A study by professional services network Deloitte also revealed that while 800,000 low-skilled workers lost their jobs due to technology advancement, 3.5 million new, higher-paying jobs were also created. We’d love to be the crystal ball that tells what the future looks like, but we can’t. What we can be pretty certain about is that a lot of future jobs will be technology-related.


For instance, McKinsey expects spending on technology to grow by more than 50 per cent from 2015 to 2030, and this could create up to 50 million jobs around the world. In fact, there are currently many vacant job positions in the global tech sector. According to the Manpower Group’s 2016/2017 Talent Shortage Survey, IT positions such as programmers, developers and database administrators are the second hardest to fill in the world. Professionals in skilled trades such as electricians, carpenters, welders and bricklayers were the hardest to find.


“Why are skills sometimes hard to measure and to manage? Because new technologies frequently require specific new skills that schools don’t teach and that labour markets don’t supply. Since information technologies have radically changed much work over the last couple of decades, employers have had persistent difficulty finding workers who can make the most of these new technologies.” - Economist JAMES BESSEN, in a Harvard Business Review article


A 2016 study by Gartner found that the lack of tech talent around the world is “the single biggest issue standing in the way of CIOs achieving their objectives”. The report also noted that positions related to big data, analytics and information management are the ones facing the largest talent gap.


Meanwhile, a joint report by Singapore’s Temasek Group and Google concluded that a lack of homegrown tech talent is the most critical problem faced by internet startups in Southeast Asia. And this is bad news for these local economies - many new players have resorted to opening their companies in other countries such as China and India where there is a bigger pool of techies. Australia faces a similar problem. Statistics by research firm CEB show that the country’s AI-related talent population stands at a dismal 3,370, more than three times less than the United Kingdom.


Even the United States is not immune to this problem. During Barack Obama’s tenure as US president, the White House predicted that there would only be around 400,000 computer science graduates come 2020. In contrast, there would be some 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs that will be up for grabs.


Albert Einstein once said: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”.


This is advice we need to heed. Now. Why? It is more imperative than ever to pursue


lifelong learning, picking up new skills that differentiate us from the robots.


According to estimates by the World Economic Forum, roughly 35 per cent of the skills required by all industries will change by 2020, meaning that companies should equip employees with the right set of skills to tackle challenges of the future.


Take bank tellers for example. Even after the introduction of Automatic Teller Machines or ATMs, there wasn’t a major layoff of human tellers because they assumed other responsibilities that machines cannot do, such as client-facing roles or investment consulting.


Again, though we know not what the future holds, we can be pretty certain that jobs will become more digitised. As such, being competent in technology would go a long way in staying relevant in the age of robots and artificial intelligence. Corporations have wasted no time in training or upskilling their workers.


Over in India, multinational networking and telecommunications company Ericsson sponsored more than 3,000 of its employees to take up online courses to improve their tech skills. US telecommunications giant AT&T has since 2013 spent $250 million on upskilling programs for their employees to arm them with the knowledge of the latest technologies. They encourage employees to sign-up for nano degrees developed by Udacity in programming, data analysis, web development and android development and programming.


In the Philippines, Danish robotic arm manufacturer Universal Robots started offering free online learning modules to teach business owners about robotics and how companies can adopt machines.


But it is not tech companies that are looking to upskill. After all, technology is so pervasive today that it affects every industry. No one is safe from tech disruption. In Singapore, OCBC Bank recently launched an S$20 million Future Smart Programme to provide upskilling training for its 29,000 employees worldwide so that it can bolster its application of new technologies and data. Across the causeway in Malaysia, Maybank has a similar program that allows staff to gain certifications in news tech skills such as data analytics and computer programming. In Australia, automotive workers who lost their jobs due to the shutting down of the Holden plant in 2017 are learning digital skills through a new pilot program by Microsoft and local authorities.


So, what does the future look like? How do we find more work in times of automation and an expanding workforce? We’ll be looking at that in the next piece.

Research by: Alywin Chew


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This article is the last in our 4-part series on 'The Future of Work.' Read the first part on The Threat of Automation.

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February 12, 2020