UNLOCKING THE EDGE

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Automation isn’t the enemy: Job security in an age of digitisation

It’s a commonly concluded outcome in any industrial setting. Technology and automation will end up cutting out jobs. The robots will take over. The imminent change will destroy our livelihood.

It’s not an altogether wrong sentiment. Automation certainly will remove the need for a few pairs of hands in the process, but does that mean the end of careers? Absolutely not.

Let’s look to Asia to find out why automation isn’t the enemy.

The impact of technology is revered by many. As we wade deeper into the 4th Industrial Revolution, the ripples of change can be felt in industries as vastly different as mining and healthcare.

In the IIoT space, we often talk about the benefits like increased accuracy, heightened optimisation, better utilisation of downtime – to name just a few. What we don’t talk about are the human elements, save for removing them.

The headlines are splashed across our social media feeds almost daily, woven in and amongst news of incredible technological advancements and shiny ‘must have’ products.

Yet, just across the ocean in Asia, where the effects of technology and automation are being felt more than ever.

In a recently published paper, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) unpacked how, despite popular perception and brazen headlines, there are big lessons to be learnt. Lessons that highlight how important technology will be for stimulating the job market.

The ADB’s Chief Economist, Yasuyuki Sawada, noted that new technologies drive higher productivity, the foundation for better-paid jobs and economic growth. While new technologies displace jobs, they also unleash countervailing forces that generate more jobs. As some workers may be left behind, governments in developing Asia should respond to this challenge by ensuring that workers are protected from the downside of new technologies and prepared to harness the new opportunities they provide. This will require coordinated action on skills development, labor regulation, social protection, and income redistribution.”

Analysis conducted by the ADB shows that, between 2005 and 2015, jobs lost due to automation were vastly overshadowed by rising demand due to the adoption of robotics. Similarly, connected systems pushed higher productivity and economic growth. The result?

134 million new jobs – that’s a whopping 33 million more than the number lost to new technologies rolling in.

Productivity improvements and, potentially, lower production costs in one area of a value chain means another can increase supply meet rising demand. Increased demand in one sector has ripple effects outwards as demand increases upstream, too.

Here’s the kicker –

According to the study, which of course touched on AI and IoT, all of this tech means new companies are being created. Not only that, but entirely new industries and jobs are, too.

“A detailed analysis of occupation titles in India, Malaysia, and the Philippines found that 43–57 percent of new job titles that have emerged in the past 10 years are in ICT.
“A large share of new job titles emerged in one of India’s fastest growing occupation categories: craft and related workers. This was driven mainly by the different types of specialised technicians needed to work with computer-controlled machines. Such trends will continue.”

New companies and an ever increasing complexity to the way products are manufactured, paired with a significant demand for personalised services in industries like healthcare, ecommerce and finance, mean there are a few extra industries boosting employment rates.

The Local Landscape

So what can big, old Africa learn from our Asian counterparts?

Well, as our CEO, Nico Steyn, noted just a few months ago, digitalisation is the key to doing more with the same. The adoption of digitalisation technologies will make African enterprises more productive and globally competitive.

“Seeing how employment has been stimulated by technology, not just in Asia but in the local context too, is unsurprising. We’re in the business of helping businesses do infinitely more with what they have – that means people, technology, infrastructure and equipment. Not only is there massive potential being unlocked locally, but we’re finding technology building businesses into more stable, relevant ecosystems, daily,” says Steyn.

Having started IoT.nxt just a few years ago, the company now employs a little over 70 people globally and employs several contractors. In their work, the various teams work to identify ways of making businesses across numerous industries stay competitive and relevant.

You’d think that, considering being coupled with digitisation, the reception to our technology would be poor. Interestingly, it’s been quite the opposite.

What the newspapers forget to mention

In their recently published paper, the Asian Development Bank noted that automation only goes ahead where it’s economically viable or feasible. Whilst automation can speed up a process or make it more efficient, even profitable, it doesn’t remove the need for human input altogether.

Here’s the thing the newspapers often forget to drop into articles – this isn’t the first, second or even third industrial revolution.

“New technologies often automate only some tasks of a job, not the whole job. ATMs, for example, have not replaced bank tellers but broadened their role in customer relationship management.”

In a recent article, MoneyWeb listed some new career options that could be born out of automation – ready to become a Robot Nurse, anyone? You can find some more career options here.

Across the ocean in the other direction, a study by the OECD contradicted the often-quoted Frey and Osborne study of 2013 which touted job losses of 47% percent as a result of automation.

Tasks like managing juniors, product improvements as a result of real human testing, and the kind of effective salesmanship that comes from a heart to heart with someone in need of your products – those are the tasks that are here to stay. Only vastly more efficient in delivery with the support of technology. “Re-qualification is an important mechanism to aid the transition from more to less automatable jobs,” notes the paper.

It’s not automation that’s the enemy. It’s the fear of automation and failure to embrace it that is.

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