Dealing with the Disruption of Jobs

The political parties, before the assembly or parliament elections, proclaim to create and provide far more jobs than they actually can, if elected to the power. Often very little thought is given to the very phenomenon that leads to disruption of jobs. Once this is understood, the planners can plan to overcome job disruptions (loss […]

The political parties, before the assembly or parliament elections, proclaim to create and provide far more jobs than they actually can, if elected to the power. Often very little thought is given to the very phenomenon that leads to disruption of jobs. Once this is understood, the planners can plan to overcome job disruptions (loss of jobs as they become obsolete). Vikram Sarabhai the great visionary stated in his convocation address at IIT Madras in the year 1968 that “…as the rate of innovation, of discovery and of everything else in the world gets faster and faster so does the obsolescence of people and things become ever more acute”. Seemingly, now 30-40 kinds of jobs (permanent) are disappearing with each passing decade; the phenomenon is often called as technology driven disruption in jobs.

Here, I provide a scientific basis of job disruptions and indicate ways of overcoming the crisis. Firstly, there exists a close relationship between education, science and technology, and job disruption. To illustrate further, a good education leads to many unforeseen developments in science and technology which in turn herald the industrial revolutions (IRs). Thus far, the world has witnessed four major IRs (1.0-4.0); Mechanization (of production) also popularly known as the textile revolution (IR 1.0; 1780, UK), Mass Production (IR 2.0; 1870, USA), Automation (IR 3.0; ~2019) and Digital revolution (IR 4.0) that took place at the turn of the 20th century. These invariably disrupted jobs by reducing the manpower requirements in industries and other service sector organizations.

The recent digital revolution however came with an unimaginable swiftness and with a massive bang. It then pervaded every individual, globally, in all aspects of life, ranging from school education to international relations, defense, medicine, judiciary, trade and businesses and so on. So much so, the human life now revolves around the internet: Internet of things (IoT), internet of people and internet of services. These are supported by the Cyber Physical Systems (CPS- platforms). Such developments have resulted in the creation of smart grids, smart factories, smart buildings, smart homes, and business hubs, social webs etc.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics have opened countless possibilities. All these developments have led to massive job disruptions affecting for instance; the architects, assemblers / fabricators, bank tellers, cashiers, dispatchers, fast food cooks, financial services, fishers, insurance and travel agents, journalists, legal secretaries, lawyers and paralegals, law enforcement officials, lumberjacks, mail carriers, marketing and advertising businesses, printing press operators, retails jewelers, goldsmiths, sports referee / umpires, stenographers, telemarketers, textile workers, teachers, typists and so on. Many popular and global level industries with total monopoly had to go bankrupt (classic example: Kodak Eastman Co.). Innovations like the smart phone can serve the role of unimaginable number of devices, and as information and communication center, as library and so on. Consequently, many establishments lost their relevance, and businesses, followed by a huge disruption in jobs.

Furthermore, with growing convenience, popularity, and affordability of online coaching classes and massive use of U-tubes, teaching positions may also become redundant with time, at least in certain faculties (Arts, Humanities, and Languages etc.). The teachers who resist shifting gears to focus on new paradigms of education, that include among other things, training and inspiring the learners towards creative thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, group learning, self-learning will find it difficult to stay relevant in the fast changing national/global scenarios.

Luckily, all is not lost. Despite the unforeseen developments in technology and job disruptions, new jobs also get created, mainly for, up gradation of technologies and their maintenance. These come with a price. They ask for new skills. Therefore, they force the education system to change drastically to meet new challenges. The future jobs demand contemporaneous skills and ability to resolve critical issues creatively. Such challenges and demands will pop up from time to time, regularly and, unabated. Hence, it calls for disruption of the ongoing system of education and devise new ways to meet challenges of acquiring new skills and so on. There is no one time solution. Making innovations should become a habit. For this to happen, we need to first disrupt the habit of doing business as usual.

When country faces severe unemployment, how would it provide employment without first generating jobs? The State and the Central governments in power do not even fill up the existing vacancies on regular basis. Besides, credibility of credentials (certificates) has become tenuous at present; the few exceptions are the likes of IISc., IITs, IIITs, IIMs, some Central Universities and IISERs. A few talented pools of graduates manage to get jobs either in private sectors or prairies outside India. Talent is systematically driven out of country following reverse discrimination. Moreover, our public sector units have hardly become the magnets of attraction for talent. The plight of State run universities is more than pathetic. Even from the premier institutions, cutting edge research and innovations with global impact have yet to emerge.

Political parties on the eve of elections often proclaim that they will create millions of jobs and conveniently forget once the election process is over. But, technology driven job disruption goes on unceasingly, and the existing jobs become more and more obsolete with passing of each decade. So, how to deal with this problem? First, the developmental works can create some jobs. Second, skills for up gradation and maintenance of technologies and, making innovations can help overcome job disruptions to a great extent. Third, Promoting entrepreneurship and skill based quality education are two feasible solutions for dealing with job disruptions, an inescapable phenomenon. Let us not forget that race between job disruptions and bridling it by acquiring new skills will be eternal. And, sooner or later, our mindset of depending on the secure government jobs may have to wean. (The author is a former academic, administrator and an educationist).