There has recently been much discussion around the impact of automation, particularly the use of robotics, on employment. Advances in machine learning, the internet of things, data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) are steadily eliminating routine and repetitive types of jobs.
Some studies state that half of manufacturing jobs will be eliminated by automation in the next decade. Driverless trucks and trains are set to become commonplace, eliminating many more jobs. Advances in technology are not only impacting lower skilled jobs but also skilled professions. People with advanced qualifications such as lawyers and doctors are undertaking activities that are fundamentally predictable and can be automated.
So, is this actually the case? Will such a large number of jobs be eliminated?
Well, over time many more jobs will cease to exist. But the rate at which jobs will be eliminated will depend, not only on technology, but also on the availability of skills that can implement and manage this technology.
New jobs will need to be created to enable this automation, and to engender the innovation facilitated by new technology. Skills required for these new jobs are in extremely short supply.
Without the appropriate skills, it will not be possible to have driverless trucks, driverless trains, software defined factories, connected health, smart grids, smart cities and so forth.
In fact, the major inhibitor to the continued digital transformation of businesses and whole industries is, and will continue to be, a lack of skills. Yes, it is a shortage of manpower that will slow down the adoption of new technologies such as robotics, AI, big data analytics, and the internet of things.
Another major inhibitor to the deployment of new technologies that are transforming businesses is the security risk presented by the technology itself. Internet of things technology exponentially increases the vulnerability of a system to security breaches. Security will need much greater focus, as internet of things enabled developments progress.
Do we have enough security professionals to drive the secure development of these industries? No, we don’t. In fact, it is estimated that there are only a few thousand qualified cybersecurity professionals working in Singapore and around 15,000 working in Australia. These numbers are far too small. Who will implement a smart grid, for example?
Where will we get these skills?
New technology has created visions for how industries will be transformed. We have the technology to allow us to realise these visions. But, we do not have the skills to implement and manage this technology. A much larger pool of skills is required, that relate to both information technology and the operational technology that is being used, in many industries.
The lack of manpower needed to enable the transformations that are expected, will slow down technology adoption and automation. So, the argument that new technologies will only destroy jobs is nonsense. It will also create jobs. New higher skilled jobs will emerge together with the use of new, disruptive technology. The implementation of this technology is impossible without them.
Governments, trade unions, academic institutions and businesses will need to work together, closely, to ensure that their economies are well positioned to benefit from technology-driven transformations and associated innovation. New industrial strategies will need to be developed. No stakeholder is capable of enabling these transformations alone. Countries where multiple stakeholders work well together, such as Germany, South Korea and Singapore, are particularly well placed to benefit from the next wave of economic transformation.
Key to economic success is the development of skills that will enable radical transformation across industries. This needs to happen now.