Technology is one of the key factors that has given humans an advantage over nature and other animals. We are perhaps the only species that can survive on mountains, deserts , tropical forests , plains and cold deserts. This has been made possible only due to technology. In addition to this, we have been able to grow more food, alter our surroundings, build living spaces, alter the course of rivers and travel to space with the aid of innovative products of human thought.
The Historical Relationship Between Technology and Jobs
Once man learnt to grow crops and settle in a single place, and civilization took birth, the number of occupations have multiplied continuously over the years. This multiplication of occupations grew with the technological innovations. Number of jobs that became irrelevant were usually less than the number of new jobs that came into existence in developed world. This statement is supported by the rising incomes and GDP of the world after World War II in the industrial world.
Simultaneously, manual jobs were lost in the developing world and colonies of western nations. Technology was the key factor that created and destroyed jobs in the past . This pattern has continued for a long time. This fact has resulted in opposition to technology and also some serious thinking in socio -political circles to evolve alternate strategies of economic development.
Opposition to technology for the sake of saving jobs is not a new story. Luddites in Britain ransacked the spinning jenny when Britain took the path of industrialization. Mahatma Gandhi opposed big industries and preferred village industries. The Charkha and Khadi were presented as symbols of nationalism in spite of their inefficiency from the production point of view.
However, the march of technology seems to be unstoppable. Email reduced the relevance of letters to a large extent. Computers made typewriters irrelevant. telegram became obsolete after mobile phones became affordable. Now SMS is on the verge of being irrelevant with the advent of messaging apps like Whatsapp. However, electronics and internet technology revolution created new sectors like e-commerce and IT services where new jobs were created. This has more or less compensated for the jobs lost to telegrams and typewriters.
Impact of Technology on Job Creation
The next technology revolution might not be so generous. Artificial intelligence, self driven cars, robotics in manufacturing will lead to massive loss of jobs that employ a large section of middle class in urban areas around the world. The importance of human labor is reducing at a mind boggling pace. The march of technology and its impact on jobs will result in tectonic shifts in our societies and economics. Without doubt it will also affect the politics of nation states and its political class in a big way.
The next technology revolution will not only impact urban family incomes but also the pressure on rural jobs and earnings. If machines take over roads and manufacturing plants, a large number of laborers will have to migrate back to villages in developing nations like India. The situation is even worse in industrialized countries as agriculture is already mechanized. The world is unprepared to tackle issues that might crop up in future.
Initially , in the early twentieth century, the primary sector lost jobs to the secondary sector. With advent of IT services, most of the businesses are now dependent on internet and allied services. Secondary sector lost jobs to the tertiary sector. If IT services and automobiles are taken over by computers or new technologies, the economy might not have new jobs to offer to a growing population. This would force nations to revamp their labor policy in future.
Technology and Labour Force
NBER ( National Board of Economic Research), USA feels that technology can impact labor force in three ways.
- Retirement decisions of older workers
- Skill acquisition of young workers
- Inter- industry wage workers
Once jobs are independent of physical stress and bodily strength, workers are automatically capable of working for longer years. If manual labour is eliminated through automation, governments , employers and employees will have to revamp retirement policies to make way for younger blood in the workforce
Secondly, the kind of skills needed for the new era is totally different from that of the 20th century. Workers will have to let go outdated knowledge and acquire new information at a fast pace. University curricula must take note of the changes happening in the job market and respond swiftly to bridge the skill gap.
Government schemes like Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana will have to realign their course content for the new era. Spending on skills that are likely to be automated will not yield results in future. Companies will also have to spend a larger amount of money towards on-job training to ensure that their human capital doesn’t depreciate.
Thirdly, the demand for manual labor will reduce in future. As per the fundamental law of economics, price of any commodity will reduce if the demand falls. This could lead to lesser wages for the manual workers and higher wages for those who are involved in technology intensive jobs. The gap between these two sectors exists already. But , it might widen further with the advent of automation.
As we are aware, large gaps in lifestyle of the rich and the poor are bound to cause social unrest. Governments and societies will have an additional challenge to confront.
The Silver Lining
With the automation of manual or repetitive jobs because of technology, humans might come up with creative solutions to existing and new problems emanating from technology and job losses. Government might reduce work hours , redistribute wealth and improve lives with the help of new technologies.
This assumptions finds validation from the recent UN sponsored summit “AI for Good” , held in Geneva which held discussions on using AI for achieving sustainable development goals. With AI , data driven sectors like health care, education and public service delivery can be made more effective. The benefits of better human development indices might affect the availability of skilled workforce that could contribute in sectors that are not labor intensive.
As technology changes dynamically, so will the kind of jobs on offer for future generations. The human mind and not computers will hold the key to creation of technology and handling consequences of the same. No matter how the future shapes up , the innovative spirit of humans will play a key role in reinventing the concept of ‘employment’ in coming days.