At the fifth World Internet Conference, held in November in China, the world was introduced to the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered news anchor. That’s not all. Self-driving cars, AI assisted robotic surgery and law firms using AI tools are already a reality. Maybe creative jobs are still safe for humans. If the latest news is to be believed, this may not be so.
An AI bot has written an entire chapter in the Harry Potter series of fiction. At a recent Delhi exhibition, art works made by AI were on display. If this was not all, computer scientists of two universities have designed an algorithm that now writes poetry. A software has been created that can even generate music. These are just a few examples. The fourth industrial revolution is a reality. AI, Internet of Things, robotics and autonomous vehicles are already part of our world. Almost every field is feeling the change. This has increasingly led to debates on the future of jobs, of course for humans.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) in its ‘World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018’ report has observed that the number of the jobless in India will increase to 18.6 million in 2018 and 18.9 million in 2019. Unemployment has led to calls for reservation even by some well-off sections. The tide of new technologies is making people fear for their jobs. For certain skills, there is an excessive supply of people but not enough jobs. In such a situation, many graduates, unable to find employment suiting their skills, are joining at lower positions and working in places that don’t completely utilise their potential.
But the picture is not so gloomy if one looks at the latest ‘Future of Jobs Report 2018’ of the World Economic Forum. WEF head Klaus Schwab explains the impact of new technologies on jobs by saying: “As has been the case throughout economic history, such augmentation of existing jobs through technology is expected to create wholly new tasks – from app development to piloting drones to remotely monitoring patient health to certified care workers – opening up opportunities for an entirely new range of livelihoods for workers. At the same time, however, it is also clear that the fourth industrial revolution’s wave of technological advancement is set to reduce the number of workers required for certain work tasks.”
To make the most of our demographic dividend and use the rise of new technologies to our advantage, we’ll need to tackle problems in our present education system.
Some feel that the problem lies in technical and vocational skills (or lack of the same) in our youth. Well, that is a problem. But let us take a step little back, to schools. In almost all schools in India, students up to Class X are at least taught the following standard subjects: English, Maths, Science, Social Science and a language (Indian or foreign). Then at the end of Class X, they are asked to fill in their stream preference for Class XI.
Some fill it based on their choice while others give in to the pressure exerted on them to take up certain subjects. While some are well informed about how their choices can lead them to their aspirations and their dream job, others are confused and either experiment with new combinations or go with their peers’ choice. Most don’t have access to real-time data on what the jobs of the future would look like or the current trends. As some have pointed out, even if data is available, it may not be easy for these young students to interpret it. Therefore, once students pass out of Class XII, many still go in for traditional courses which may not have as much demand in the job market.
To check this, some experts have pointed out that we should start making interventions at school level itself. How about introducing a dedicated course at school level on the future jobs in India and abroad? This could be alongside standard subjects. While many schools already have career counselling sessions, this course will have more to offer. Informed by changing trends in the job market and real-time data, the course will help students understand jobs of the future. It would be regularly fed with inputs based on new trends. Moreover, it will involve explaining the appropriate courses students would need to choose to get it. In addition, the course teacher can have interactions with parents to help them explore these opportunities. Guest lecturers can be called to talk about upcoming fields like AI, robotics, and blockchain and the skills needed for them. In addition to the jobs available, students can also be enlightened about the wave of entrepreneurship and startups and how they can be employment creators in various sectors. Further, as some have argued, it is important to inculcate in students the curiosity to learn new things and be adaptive.
This course can be designed at the national level after studying patterns both in India and abroad. For example, Japan with a huge old-age population is looking for young people to take up several jobs. While designing the course, credible data like those from government sources and private ones can be used. Global reports like those of the World Economic Forum and the International Labour Organization can be studied and analysed for inputs. In this way, those studying present and future demand for skills can help students who will constitute a major chunk of the future supply. It is important that this framework allows enough flexibility so that necessary changes can be made taking into account the background of the students and their varying learning abilities. Students would obviously not be tested upon in this course. Finer details of the framework can be worked upon by experts. For a start, a pilot project may be undertaken to see how this would pan out.
It would have several benefits. First, the biggest advantage of such a mechanism would be that students would be better aware of what courses to take in their journey to land up jobs of their choice. Second, if the market demand, say, for certain kinds of engineers, is going down, the students will be informed well in time so that they can opt for another course when they enter university. Third, such a course would be extremely helpful for those who don’t have access to the internet and where parents may not be able to guide their children on the current and future trends. Since this course will be fed by market trends which will throw light on the demand, the supply could be accordingly worked on.
Here, critics may say that education is not only for getting a job and is much more than that. The point is well taken, but there is no harm in telling students the avenues and careers available. They may finally choose not to take them up or decide to go for subjects that appeal to them irrespective of the future jobs in the same but at least there will be a choice for those who are confused on their future course of action.
To keep pace with this technology-driven world, now is the time for ‘course’ correction.
Gupta is a lawyer and currently a young professional with the Economic Advisory Council to the PM and NITI Aayog. Views expressed are personal.
(The article appears in December 15, 2018 edition)