Developed world way ahead in jobs of future

AI & ML threaten to widen the rich-poor gap

Politics

November 25, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Developed world way ahead in jobs of future

With increasing automation, developing countries like India risk to fall further behind

A recent study by the OECD places a bunch of East Asian & European nations as best placed for jobs of future, pushing developing nations further behind.

Though the global economy as a whole is down on its knees due to the coronavirus pandemic, the year-long crisis has hit the poor and developing nations much harder than the rich ones.

There have been numerous reports of how the inequality has risen sharply at a global, regional, national and even sub-national level due to the pandemic-induced economic crisis. There have also been reports about how the pandemic has led to a ‘new normal’ and a new way for businesses to run and for workers to work, namely work from home and use technology to deliver work which earlier could have been only done physically. Thus, video conferences and use of various software-driven tools are now said to be standard part of a standard office-going worker in the world.

In such a situation, the youth ought to have emerged winners as of all the age groups, it is the millennials and younger members of the global population that are now more tech savvy, both in their professional and personal lives. And as the populations of developing nations as a whole are much younger than the older populations in the developed nations, the developing nations should have emerged stronger and cut the gap with the rich ones, however marginally or slightly.

Paradoxically, however, several studies point that the pandemic has hurt the young workers and those youth about to enter the job markets much harder than their older peers. In this context, a study by the OECD, a think tank and lobby of the rich, industrial countries, brings more bad news for the developing world. The Programme for International Student Assessment, a triennial study of the world’s education systems carried out by the OECD, assesses 15-year-olds from 79 countries in maths, science and reading. The study finds that none of the developing nations, barring China, if it could still be considered a developing one, are anywhere near ready for the jobs of the future, which principally need maths and sciences. The latest survey put four Chinese cities, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang as joint toppers of the list. Amongst the top performing nations, after China, are Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Estonia and a whole lot of European nations besides USA and Canada.

For the first time, the OECD also assessed global competency to determine the extent to which students in various countries stood prepared to thrive in an interconnected world where machines, software and humans need to constantly interact with each other through different interfaces. It is dramatic that none of the developing nations made it anywhere even in the top 40 of the list, including nations like India, Philippines or Vietnam that have a relative prowess in software-related industries and where the ITES companies play an important part of the national economy as well as the exports.

Worryingly for the developing nations and especially the young and students, reports also say that increased use of AI and machine learning is likely to result in automation of a lot of jobs, right from manufacturing and farming extending to several services industries where the developing nations have become suppliers of trained manpower.

Plusses and minuses of automation

The World Economic Forum says, in its Future of Jobs 2020 report, says that by 2025, about 85 million jobs may be replaced by increasing automation. The report goes on to say the same process is likely to lead to 97 million new jobs to be created that are better adapted for the economy of the future. These jobs demand extensive knowledge in domains of data analysis, science, AI and machine learning as well as robotics. For all of these new job roles, the students would need very good foundation in maths, sciences as well as several soft skills like active learning, analytical thinking and problem solving as well as resilience amongst the students.

With the youth from the developing nations not figuring anywhere in the list of best trained manpower for the jobs of future, the youth in these nations is likely to fall further behind not just their counterparts from the developed nations but even their own compatriots who are already working and established in traditional roles that are likely to diminish over time as industries all around the world move towards AI and machine learning.

There is another challenge for the youth in developing and poor nations, notably the students. Education has moved online since the beginning of the year in view of Covid-19. While students in developed countries have generally managed to cope with the dramatic change in learning practices, the students from poor nations, especially those from the poorer sections of these societies, have borne the brunt due to lack of access to tools that are needed for online education, namely smartphones and computers at home. In addition, they also suffered as generally the internet infrastructure in the poor countries suffers from more outages and lower speeds than in the rich countries where the mobile and broadband infrastructure is far superior. An entire generation may have lost a whole year of studies and this is likely to reflect in their scores and capabilities in all domains, including maths and sciences. Thus the next PISA test, slated for early 2021 may show that the developed nations have pulled further ahead and have left the poorer countries and poorer parts of the middle income nations further behind. This is a gap that is set to prove harder to reduce for the developing nation youth than what their older generations may have faced.

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