To what extent can the global workforce adapt to the threat posed by new digital technologies?
There has been much discussion about whether employees can adapt to the Fourth Industrial easily or difficulty. In this essay, the Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to automation,machines can learn processes on themselves, which will be widely used in the manufacture industry, healthcare industry and financial services. Recently, as computers began to appear in offices and robots in factories,they are relieving human from repetitive work, which will boost the growth of economies and improve work efficiency. Technological progress makes the world better but also bring new challenges,such as the substantial share of employment are at risk and the wealth gap between countries will widen. According to the history of the Industrial Revolution, some researchers have argued that technology is gradually changing the nature of work rather than replacing it and employees can respond to this change easily. There are numerous researchers take a different view that no job will navigate through this revolution easily. This essay will attempt to demonstrate that the coming digital technology is a huge challenge for employees but who with additional skills may be more likely to adapt to it. In order to demonstrate this,it will be shown that labor market is being disrupted by the automation firstly, the requirement for labor skills will change secondly, the government and companies fail to be in the lockstep with the technology.
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In the Fourth Industrial era, technology is disrupting the labor market. A great majority of jobs will be replaced by machines and robots because many forms of routine manual labor and routine cognitive tasks can be broken down into a series of routine tasks, and more and more of which can be carried out by machines reliably and consistently. A study performed by Carl and Michael should be noted, examining the probability of computerization, they found that 47% of workers in America, 65% of workers in Britain and 51% of workers in Japan will face a high risk of computerization. Technologies have replaced workers in the assembly-lines and clerical tasks and rote information processing, such as manufacturing jobs and professional drivers, According to Enlitic’s radiology system examines, the AI system was 50% better at classifying malignant tumors and had a false-negative rate (where a cancer is missed) of zero, compared with 7% for the expects (The Economist,2016). Healthcare industry is also likely to be affected by AI system. In these cases, with diffusion of AI is gradually penetrating in every industry,both manual jobs and cognitive jobs are in danger of being replaced by automation and the rate of unemployment will increase rapidly.
Some might argue that “Rather than destroying jobs,automation redefines them” (Mr Bessen,cited in The Economist,2016). There will be some new type jobs created in the field of digital technologies. However, the supply of job might outstrips the demand in the labor market. As a growing share of them are automated,many industries are less labor-intensive than previously. An oft-cited example is that of Instagram,a photo sharing app. In 2012, it had tens of millions of users,but only 13 employees. Kodak, which once employed 145,000 people making photographic products, went into bankruptcy at around the same time (The Economist,2016). Moreover, the rising birth rate in those developing countries will aggravate the unemployment. Therefore, it is easy to see fields in which automation might do away with the need for human labor, it is less obvious where technology might create a great deal of new jobs.
The requirement for employees’ skills will be changed in the near future. As the digital technologies reshape the labour market, many production steps are already fully automated, employees will be required to focus not only on one main practice area, but also to take on several multifaceted tasks and develop diverse valuable skills as necessary. Some economists argued that“…workers will have to switch from routine,unskilled jobs to non-routine,skilled jobs to stay ahead of automation” (The Economist,2016). For example, the advent of automated teller machines(ATMs) changed bank employees away from routine tasks and towards to customer service. Self-driving vehicles may need remote operators to cope with emergencies (The Economist,2016). It can be predicted that technologies decrease the demand for low-skilled information workers but increase it for highly skilled one. In many developing countries, low-skilled employees without IT knowledge may show less interest in improving their technological skills and those without entrepreneurship are prone to be edged out in the digital technology era. On the other hand, practitioners with a fundamental grasp of analytical and technical matters show willingness to learn new technological skills.People who can seize the lag time between the invention of new machines and the implementation of technologies to learn new skills that computers are unable to complete will coordinate them with machines better than others missed. For example,most of the population in India have a good command of English and IT skills while they have more extensive computer knowledge than English colleagues do. It is predicted that 25,000 IT jobs are likely to be outsourced to India from UK alone (Wisskirchen et al,2017). It is true that technological progress may leave some people a lot behind, but employees with additional skills and who are able to keep stay ahead of automation will be more competitive as a result of the demand for high-skilled information workers is increasing.
Another factor is that many government and companies fail to catch up with the technology due to the lack of education of much of the population and lack of investment in a digital infrastructure. Firstly, the education system is poor match to the technological progress in many developing countries. Primary and secondary education system still focus on the rote learning rather than technology-related skills. Lacking access to higher education and training opportunities,it would be difficult to integrate the great number of unskilled production workers into a structurally difficult labor market. However,some highly developed Asian countries with good education system,such as Singapore and South Korea could be the winner in the digital revolution era.These countries provide digital interconnection of people, the share of the population at risk of unemployment is much lower than that in developing countries (Wisskirchen et al,2017).
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Furthermore, the implementation of autonomous systems requires amounts of an investment at present. But the shortage of financial possibilities in many developing countries makes them too dependent on foreign investment. To be more specific,building investment are vital for companies to compete in the revolution. A good example of this problem is the clothing industry. In low labor-cost countries, such as Thailand and Bangladesh, with the development of production robots, many companies producing in low labor-cost counties will withdraw investment and relocate their production sector to the countries where they originally come from, which will turn the surplus of unskilled production workers into a curse for these developing countries (Wisskirchen et al,2017). Therefore,it can be assumed that in the most developing countries,the destinies of low-skilled practitioners are mainly depend on the foreign companies’ decision making and the implementation of autonomous IT systems will be opened up with a delay of a few years. Without the government strong financial support in education and infrastructure, it is tough for employees to adapt to this change.
In conclusion, this essay has attempted to demonstrate that although automation will lead to considerable savings with regard to the cost of labour and can release workers from repetitive work it also bring with some thorny challenges to the practitioners. Evidence suggests that many people are at higher risk of losing their jobs because of the automation. Not everyone will successfully navigate the shifting jobs market. It is also true that the labor market is tend to be in favor of people who are creative and flexible. Technologies will keep evolving and learn new things at an extraordinary pace, which makes it difficult for people to face the surge of digital technologies,especially for those who are low-skilled and lack entrepreneurship. The gap of accumulation capital among countries might widen the wealth gap between employees in developing countries and employees in developed countries. Therefore, better accessing to higher education and training opportunities would be necessary to strength the competitiveness of employees in the Fourth Revolution.
- Kaul, A. (2016) How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Jobs? Tractica. Available at: https://www.tractica.com/artificial-intelligence/how-will-artificial-intelligence-impact-jobs/ [Accessed May 29, 2019].
- Morikawa, M. (2016) Artificial intelligence and employment. VOX, CEPR Policy Portal. Available at: http://voxeu.org/article/artificial-intelligence-and-employment [Accessed May 29, 2019].
- Raman, A., and Bernstein, A. (2015) The Great Decoupling: An Interview with Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Harvard Business Review, June. Available at: https://hbr.org/2015/06/the-great-decoupling [Accessed May 29, 2019].
- The Economist (2016) Special Report: Artificial Intelligence: The Return of the Machinery Question. June. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21700758-will-smarter-machinescause-mass-unemployment-automation-and-anxiety [Accessed May 29, 2019].
- Wisskirchen, G., Biacabe, B.T., Bormann, U., Muntz, A., Niehaus, G., Soler, G.J., and von Brauchitsch, B. (2017) Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Their Impact on the Workplace. International Bar Association Global Employment Institute. [Online] Available at:
- https://www.ibanet.org/LPD/Human_Resources_Section/Global_Employment_Institute/Projects.aspx (Accessed: 26/04/17).
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