Business Today

Will the droids take over our jobs?

There have been many dystopian predictions of advances in technology destroying jobs that have historically been done by humans.

Sanjay Modi | September 24, 2015 | Updated 14:05 IST

Sanjay Modi, Managing Director,
There have been many dystopian predictions of advances in technology destroying jobs that have historically been done by humans. And as was the case with the Industrial Revolution, the effects of this second rise of the machines will no longer be confined to blue-collar workers alone - technology is now learning white-collar skills as well. But how worried should we be about this disruption entering our own workplace?

Economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that while technology has made many jobs redundant over the years, we might not yet be looking at a completely jobless future. In a world surging with disruptive and new technologies, we would face a job market with new roles and skill requirements, many of which never existed a decade ago. We are already witnessing a trend in the decline of many traditional industries, and a whole new set of skills will be required in order to succeed in the future. In many industries, the number of employed workers is slowly being reduced and a heavier reliance on machines is taking place.

A number of jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete as we rush to embrace technology and Big Data. India is a prime example of this with the government's focus on digitisation. Technology and digital platforms offer a massive opportunity for businesses to connect and interact with customers in a more personalised, consistent and instant manner. The banking industry, for instance, has been quick to adopt. Online banking is crucial today for banks to get a competitive edge in the marketplace and serve customers better. In fact, smartphones are expected to become the primary banking channel in the country by 2020, according to a BCG analysis. Digitised interfaces are replacing traditional customer facing roles, a process that was started years ago with automated tellers or what we call ATMs.

Think of the massive workforce employed in the Indian postal services. Globally, postal workers are among the most hit by job automation. From the post office to mail delivery, machines can today perform tasks much quicker than tellers and support staff. This can prove to be a huge threat to a country that today boasts one of the largest postal networks in the world!

If you're thinking these are low-skilled or unskilled jobs and a robot couldn't do your job, think again. Legal firms are already using software called Lex Machina that uses complicated algorithms to predict the outcome of patent lawsuits. If lawyers can be replaced by machines, anyone can.

Whilst the automation of some traditional industries can be a cause for concern, there is a positive side to the way technology is changing everyday life. Again, we need only look at what is happening in the nation today for an example. The government has taken a slew of initiatives towards digitisation, including focusing on e-governance to reach the public in a more transparent and convenient way. This thrust towards 'Digital India' will create millions of new jobs, including many that simply didn't exist 10 years ago like social media managers, SEO experts, bloggers, app developers, sustainability experts, to a name a few.

Many companies have only recently woken up to the fact that they need to have a social media presence. Only a few years ago companies clamped down on staff using social media, banning employees from mentioning the company on various platforms and restricting access to the sites during working hours. Now companies realise they need to have a 'voice' in the new world and this means being active on social media. This has resulted in high demand for social media managers to look after the corporate accounts and client accounts, and employees are usually actively encouraged to engage with the corporate social accounts. Brands are also employing community and social media managers to actively engage with customers via social media.

The advertising industry used to be the sole preserve of the print and TV media. Now, digital advertising is growing exponentially and this has opened up a whole raft of new roles from digital marketing managers to SEO experts. These roles are at the forefront of the industry and those who were quick enough to convert have reaped and continue to reap the benefits.

Whilst there are roles that have the potential to become obsolete in the future, we are not heading towards employment Armageddon. The fact that so many roles we are hiring for didn't exist 10 years ago indicates there are as yet huge potential opportunities when it comes to new roles and jobs. Rather than losing jobs from the market, technology is changing them. The same number, if not more roles, are available today-they are just in different sectors, which means that employees very much need to ensure they have the right skills that employers are looking for. Employers need candidates who are technologically aware and have skills that take account of the changing environment.

With technologies having the capability of matching employee skills to jobs, gone are the days of simply matching job titles to job posts to find better talent for new jobs.

(The author is Managing Director, - India/Middle East/Southeast Asia/Hong Kong. He can be reached at @modi_sanjay)

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