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Equipping workforces for a fourth Industrial Revolution

Automation and innovations borne out of AI will require its own pool of workers

Gulf News

Just read today’s news headlines and you would notice that artificial intelligence and automation are gradually making an impact on businesses, governments and societies across the world, promising to simplify routine tasks and ushering in a new era of possibilities.

According to a recent report by the UAE’s Ministry of Economy, AI could potentially boost the country’s GDP by up to 35 per cent by the year 2031, as the country aims to become a leading hub for AI by 2030. This is encouraging news indeed – and as with the advent of any innovation, the contemporary workforce is set to see a plethora of changes firsthand because of the ubiquity of automation technologies.

This gives rise to an interesting area of discourse among executives, academics, analysts and government officials alike. Many worry that increasing automation will render several jobs obsolete and, as such, are a threat to the modern-day workforce.

Much like what the Industrial Revolution achieved two centuries ago, we are currently witnessing the impact of the fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised in great part by increasing automation, digital transformation and the prevalence of cyber-physical systems. Such an exponential leap in industrial capability has not been seen since the movement which transformed Western economies, ushering in a new age of manufacturing, transportation and rapid globalisation.

However, change inevitably breeds disruption to varying degrees, and one needs to identify opportunity while simultaneously looking at the past and observing that innovations and new systems result in the creation of additional jobs. In fact, due to technological pioneering, entirely new industries have been created, employing millions.

Take the invention of automatic teller machines (ATMs). Even though it made bank tellers redundant to a degree, it also decreased costs for banks enabling them to invest in opening new branches in urban areas, hence requiring a greater number of employees. While machines open up new possibilities, there is a certain human element which they cannot replace.

In the case of banks, the role of workers was redefined allowing them to focus more on functions such as sales, customer service and marketing, which robots were simply not programmed to carry out.

Look at the mushrooming of on-demand industries, which consist of the likes of Uber, Careem and Deliveroo. These companies have given new meaning to the term gig-economy, wherein a host of new jobs have been created to serve target customers – all dependent on a layer of IT, without which they could not have been envisioned.

Consider our own history. In response to a dearth in agricultural jobs at the turn of the 20th century in the US, the government ramped up spending on secondary education – including instituting laws that made secondary school attendance mandatory for all. By the 1940s, the overwhelming majority of children between the ages of 14 and 17 were attending high school and in turn boosting the manufacturing sector and giving rise to a prosperous middle-class.

Automation has the potential to open the door to a host of new jobs within the fields of industrial mechanics and electrical engineering, and can expand the scope for students to take up STEM study areas. It will push workers to learn new skills and students to pursue subjects more aligned with technology. The last few years have seen children introduced to IT courses at a much younger age than was the norm.

In this regard, a leading role has to be played by both governments and the private sector. A collaborative approach is needed to ensure tomorrow’s workforce is equipped with the skills needed to thrive in a new economic reality. There is no denying the fact that the fourth Industrial Revolution is fully under way with manifold benefits for mankind.

Of course, disruptive changes and challenges go hand in hand with progress. Yet how we choose to adapt to these challenges will define our future in a post-modern, automated world.

The writer is General Manager and Vice-President, Robert Bosch M.E..

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