Once upon a time, Nokia was a global market leader boasting a bigger national budget than Finland, the country it was founded. After few years, a source of national pride turned into shame, a story of rise and fall written and orchestrated by technology. Such is the unforgiving and radical-transmutation nature of technology; Impatient and eternally flowering. The future of work is knocking, and even in the future of work the story will still start with once upon a time. The robots and the AI are removing masses of people from jobs, even the casual and the bad jobs. It might well be the time to stop keeping up with the Kardashians and start catching up with technology.
Late last year, I was part of a discussion at World Bank Kenya on the Changing Nature of Work and one message was clear: The seismic shifts in the digital economy calls for a paradigm shift away from the skills of yesterday. The remodeled world has many questions and we have to give the answers the machines will never have. It is not obscure that the digital economy will bring many disruptions to the work sphere. One thing stands out, that whereas the job market demands are evolving, our education system and institutions of learning are still trailing in washed out skills and knowledge. Routine jobs are being taken over by the machines, with the World Economic Forum suggesting that up to 52% of jobs in Kenya are susceptible to automation. The days of people specializing in one craft are waning with the imperative need for versatility soaring high. It starts with evolving and developing innovative ways to revamp education systems to make learning more relevant to a 21st Century world. As it stands in Kenya, the knowledge students get, is limited by the passé syllabus and measured by the redundant exams.
Policy and legislative amendments, curriculum reforms, education innovations, skill-based approaches to trainings, linking the industry demands to classrooms, acquisition of employable skills and lifelong learning typify the footprints that need to be engraved in the education system. Digital learning and skills needs to be at the heart of the education system. There is also need to humanize technology in a way that it augments its relationship with humanity. This entails investing in human capital and reducing machines as just compliments or servants. The machines cannot match the human creativity, and hence we should focus on developing the skills of technological know-how, problem solving and critical thinking.
The intention of robots is to replace humans in the work place. “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” said Andrew Puzder, then chief executive of Hardee’s Food Systems Inc., a restaurant chain headquartered in Tennessee, building a case for machines. And as World Bank notes, Technology is changing the skills being rewarded in the labor market. The premium is rising for skills that cannot be replaced by robots—general cognitive skills such as critical thinking and socio-behavioral skills such as managing and recognizing emotions that enhance teamwork. Workers with these skills are more adaptable in labor market. The demand for STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills is also on the rise.
Cardinally, growing technology is a residual of blooming industrial sector and well invested human capital. It is wrong to assume that “Africa can leap into the service economy without first building a manufacturing base,” Calestous Juma, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School notes. The agricultural and manufacturing sector, in Kenya for instance, are not at their optimum levels provoking lost productivity and less generated jobs. Modernizing agriculture and making the manufacturing sector more efficient will future-proof jobs and careers. This together with investment in infrastructure can act as building blocks around which the changing nature of work can be contained. Let’s walk first then walk very fast and eventually we will run.