Jobless growth is not just a concept limited to the column inches of the newspapers anymore. It is now a reality. Growth itself is not coming easy. Countries across the globe are trying every trick in the book to boost growth, from zero interest rates to quantitative easing to helicopter money, but such antics have yielded a mouse.
Not just growth but job uncertainty is also growing. In fact, one wouldn’t be too off the mark to suggest that as automation picks up pace, a lot of existing jobs would vanish, even if some new jobs get created. But no one knows for sure where and how.
Automation is threatening not just low-end jobs but also high-paying, skilled ones too. Sure, robots are replacing workers, but engineers are also being relieved of their jobs.
One McKinsey report says that automation will affect portions of almost all jobs. The only thing that remains uncertain is the extent to which they’ll be affected. It says that tasks involving physical activities or operation of machinery in predictable environments are the most vulnerable.
A Citigroup report claims that 47 percent of jobs in America are vulnerable to automation. For India, the report puts the figure at 69 percent.
So, here are seven potential job killers, those that you should look out for in the future because they are most likely to displace you from your workplace a few years down the line.
First, and the latest is the Unified Payments Interface App (UPI), launched yesterday (25 August). This is set to fast-track the destruction of the paper currency and push us rapidly towards a cashless economy. As a result of UPI, your mobile phone will turn into a mobile bank. As R Jagannathan notes, ATMs, cheques and demand drafts will become relics.
If ATMs are done away with, one doesn’t need guards to watch over them. If your mobile phone becomes a bank in itself, the idea of financial inclusion by opening more bank branches gets tossed out of the window. If banks start shutting shop (or stop opening new ones), they will stop hiring bank employees by the thousands. Only a few zonal managers, some tech wizards and risk managers will suffice for general oversight. They may instead need more highly skilled programmers to stay competitive in the digital space.
Second are driverless cars. Tesla has been a trailblazer in this area. However, the unfortunate death of one of its drivers this year may force the company to be more careful in the future, but the technology itself is only going to improve from here on.
Cab aggregators like Uber and Ola, who created millions of low-end jobs, will soon start looking to eliminate them. Uber is all set to start offering its customers self-driven cab services soon. Imagine the number of drivers who will be out of work as a result. They will have to look for other work on the side to keep themselves going.
In April this year, a convoy of self-driving trucks completed its first European cross-border trip. If automated lorries become a reality, millions of truck drivers will find themselves out of work, both in and outside India.
Third are robots. Foxconn, a key manufacturing partner of Apple and Google, has replaced thousands of factory workers with robots. Even highly skilled employees are feeling the heat.
Wipro, for instance, is looking to relieve around 3,000 engineers who do mundane software jobs because the company now has an Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool which can automate these projects.
According to a report in The Economic Times, the Big Five software exporters, namely Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro, HCL and Cognizant, together added net 24 percent fewer employees in 2015 compared to the year before.
Fourth are drones. They are the rank favourites of the United States Department of Defense, the world’s largest employer in the world. Even locally, law enforcement agencies use it to their advantage.
Recently, after a sniper attack struck 12 police officers in a shooting in Dallas, killing five, the police located the shooter and sent its robot to the location, rigged with a bomb which was timed to explode near the location of the shooter. This got the job done without exposing any more officers to danger.
In the future, drones may be used to fight crimes or even the war. (They already do for the US armed forces in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
Only last year, the Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that China’s military, which is the largest in the world, would be reduced by 3,00,000 troops. Others are likely to follow.
Fifth is 3-D printing. The biggest implication of the 3-D printing technology would be that you won’t need factories to produce things on a mass scale. You can print the things you need at your own home (and for your neighbours too, in exchange for a fee).
While robots threaten to replace humans in manufacturing, 3-D printing will potentially bring down the curtain on manufacturing as we know it. Small-scale production will become the norm, and the economic model of countries like China might need a re-look.
India may also have to re-think its ‘Make in India’ policy. Good-old manufacturing is past its sell-by date. We will do well to abandon our fetish for it. We missed the manufacturing bus. The tide is turning again. We better be prepared this time.
Sixth is online education. With the emergence of platforms like Khan Academy, Coursera, edX and MRUniversity, the education sector is also on the verge of being disrupted. More and more students are taking to these websites to acquire knowledge and brush up their skills.
Given that the nature of work is changing and that jobs are appearing and disappearing in spurts based on the needs of the market, the importance of such platforms is going to shoot up. Paying millions to attend a university doesn’t make sense anymore.
While teaching jobs may not vanish all of a sudden, they will be replaced by general invigilators or managers over a period of time. Schools will likely replace teachers with the best available content providers on the internet while the ‘manager’, or some such entity, will ensure that students come to class every day and attend the lectures. This may look futuristic now, but the pace of technology and economics will catch up sooner rather than later in the case of schools.
Seventh is big data. It has the potential to disrupt every possible sector you can think of. For instance, take the legal profession. You don’t need to hire paralegals or contract lawyers to scan thousands of legal briefs or precedents. Simple algorithms can do that for you in a matter of hours.
Big data can help make the government’s job of making policies a lot easier. You can say goodbye to policy experts who can’t seem to keep their biases and ideological preferences aside.
Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A Osborne wrote a paper titled ‘The Future of Employment’ in 2013, in which they explain how big data can help frame better policies.