The Financial Express

Learning for future of work

| Updated: October 13, 2021 20:34:58

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Fear of job loss and rapidly diminishing skill relevance have been dominating the discussion of preparing for future work culture. Among many studies, the study done by World Economic Forum indicates that by 2025 around 85 million human roles are set to be displaced by automation. The report also predicts that 97 million new jobs will emerge by 2025. As newly created jobs demand different types of skills, there has been increasing importance on upskilling the existing workforce and changing the way we have been educating and training our young generation. There has been no denial that jobs are in constant transformation due to technological progression. But does it mean that every job is equally amenable to change? Does it also suggest that every country equally benefits from human competence? In addition to how we prepare our next generation, does the strategy of producing economic value from human competence affect the dividend of investment we make in learning, education, and training? 

STRATEGIES OF PRODUCING ECONOMIC VALUE: In producing economic value, we deploy four main inputs: i. Natural resource, ii. Labor, iii. Knowledge, and iv. Ideas in the form of design of products, processes and capital machinery. During the preindustrial age, every major community, firm, or country used to deploy all of these inputs by themselves. Roles of providing inputs started changing along with the progression of industrial revolutions. For example, during the first and 2nd industrial revolutions, the British assigned the role of supplying natural resources to colonies to create economic value from British labour, knowledge, and ideas. Natural resource-supplying countries also started importing industrial outputs from Europe, weakening the demand for local production.

After independence, many post colonies, including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, opted to locally replicate or imitate imported products by operating with imported capital machinery. Hence, they succeeded in creating the local demand for industrial labour, in addition to natural resources, to produce economic value. This labour-based value creation in the industrial economy has scaled up due to the offshoring of manufacturing by multinational companies.  Over the years, they have also succeeded in producing economic value out of knowledge, whether to export information technology services or to produce healthcare services for local consumption, among others. Despite independence and economic progress, so far, value creation strategies of South East Asian countries and many other less developed countries have been limited to replicating and imitating-whether goods or service-by importing capital machinery, intermediary products, and ideas. Furthermore, to protect and scale up the existing labour-based economic value creation strategy, various measures are being taken, including duty-free import of capital machinery, currency depreciation, and tax differential for intermediary and finished products.   

TRANSFORMATION OF ROLES OF HUMAN AND MACHINES IN PRODUCTION JOBS: Human beings offer codified knowledge and skill earned through education training, tacit capability gained through experience, and innate abilities. On the other hand, machines are being developed with inanimate materials. We create task execution capacity in machines through designs. The initial attempt was to create machine capability for taking away energy-providing roles-freeing humans' muscle role in production. The subsequent effort has been dividing complex production jobs into smaller ones, organising them into production processes, and developing tools for automated execution of tasks with increasing precision-leaving the role of mainly supplying innate abilities to humans. Furthermore, management roles requiring codified knowledge and skills are being automated with software. Hence, there has been decreasing role of the humans in producing the same products. Besides, the human role of supplying knowledge in producing services is being given to software. Hence, there has been decreasing role of the humans in production of both goods and services.  

GROWING HUMAN ROLE IN SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY, INVENTION, REINVENTION, AND INNOVATION: Economic value creation does not only depend on keep producing the same products using the same production processes. Through the invention of products and processes, reinventing them, and innovating diverse solutions around them, we create economic value. For this purpose, we need human roles for gathering knowledge and feeding it into the creative process for producing ideas. Countries known to be advanced economies have focused on production and trading of ideas, as product and process features, instead of the labour and natural resources. Hence, they have deliberately adopted policies for implementing the strategy of economic value creation out of scientific advancement and ideas-creating the demand for creativity, higher education, scientific progress, publications, and patents. As a result, they have been succeeding in creating economic value out of the investment made for education, research, and development. On the other hand, there has been little, or no relevance of such investment in many of the developing countries as their economic value creation strategy is highly inappropriate for leveraging scientific knowledge, creativity and ideas.

RELEVANCE OF LEARNING-EDUCATION AND TRAINING: In Bangladesh, 4 million rural boys and girls have got jobs in producing ready-made garments for export. So far, this is the most outstanding achievement of Bangladesh in creating an industrial economy.  Has this success been derived from the investment in education and training? Perhaps, NO. These boys and girls have very little or no formal education and training. They became eligible for those industrial jobs due to the demising role of codified knowledge and skill, which we deliver through education and training. On the other hand, unemployment among college graduates has been growing. Is it due to the fact that the quality of education is poor? By addressing the quality through different means like adopting phenomenon or outcome-based learning, having a pedagogical change in education, nurturing critical thinking and problem-solving, improving skills in information technology, making an investment in the laboratory and buying many more computers, nurturing scientific mindset, and making an investment in R&D, shall we able to create jobs for the growing number of graduates? Highly likely, NO. As long as we keep pursuing the strategy of producing economic value out of labour through imported capital machinery and ideas, the economy will not be able to harness human capital, irrespective of the quality. We must change the strategy from protection to integration of locally produced knowledge and ideas for addressing competitiveness issues. As long as we keep giving tax differentials, subsidies, and cash incentives, there will be little or no implication of the investment we make for improving education and learning capacity on economic value and job creation.

Due to the technological change, the future of work will keep transforming-affecting, perhaps diminishing, human roles in production for replication. But there has been a growing role of humans in updating products and processes through knowledge and ideas. Unfortunately, as long as we keep pursuing the strategy of producing economic value out of imitation and replication through labour and protection, we will increasingly keep failing in linking education to economic value and job creation. Hence, we must realise the need for changing the strategy and policy framework for creating economic value. We must graduate from giving protection to offset incompetence to encourage performance improvement from local production of knowledge and ideas and their profitable integration in products and processes. Unless we make progress along this line, any amount of investment in improving our learning capacity through education and training runs the risk of failing to produce proportionate economic value and jobs. Furthermore, any amount of protection for offsetting eroding competitiveness is bound to fail to sustain the growth for reaching the state of an advanced economy.

M. Rokonuzzaman, Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, innovation and policy.

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