Is our workforce ready for the changes to come?
Over the past 300 years, waves of technology have impacted our lives tremendously, and taken them to a new level. Subsequently, the economic bases have been shifted from agriculture to industrialization. The first Industrial Revolution began in the middle of the 18th century with the invention of the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen. Then, as we entered the second Industrial Revolution, we found a way to mass-produce electricity-based products until the 1970s.
The third Industrial Revolution was the digital revolution, with the wave of information and communication technologies which gave birth to the new “knowledge economy.” This has created thousands of new businesses and millions of new jobs, and laid the foundation for a sustainable global economy in the 21st century.
However, we are currently experiencing a fourth Industrial Revolution, and this seems the most radical, making the previous three look like child’s play. This fourth Industrial Revolution is so different because we are developing the ability to design and engineer the world around us using the atoms and molecules that compose it. However, this rapid increase in digitization, robotization, and intelligent automation has a significant impact on the current and future labour market. This will certainly create huge new job opportunities while billions of jobs will be threatened.
It is quite challenging for both developed and developing nations. Developed nations would perhaps be able to cope with it because of their technological progress, and their skilled workforce with specialized know-how, training, and experiences.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) claimed that about 800 million people worldwide could lose their jobs by 2030, while approximately 5.7 million unskilled Bangladeshis would be sacked from their jobs abroad and at home due to a lack of technological skills. For example, in 2013, the RMG sector employed about 4.4 million workers in Bangladesh, a figure that dropped significantly to about 3.5 million by 2018. It is argued that one machine can potentially lay off 10 workers.
The question naturally arises: What will happen to developing countries like Bangladesh? Will we be able to generate enough job opportunities in our own country?
The answer is quite worrisome, yet the lackadaisical attitude of the authorities concerned is there for all to see. In order to adopt and adapt to the changes this will bring, there is an urgent need to create a skilled workforce and technology-focused employment sectors.
First, since Bangladesh is a densely populated country with a strong demographic dividend, we must grab this comparative advantage of demographic dividend and transform this huge young population into capable human resources for national development through appropriate technical and vocational education training and various other skill development programs.
They must also be taught that skills need to be continuously developed, and the government and the private sector must provide platforms where this can continue to happen.
Second, Bangladesh has obtained unprecedented technological advancement through the ruling party’s Digital Bangladesh manifesto. However, Bangladesh has failed to develop technology-oriented employment sectors. For instance, despite these positive technological advances, Bangladesh is still lagging behind in the adoption of e-commerce in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
There is no doubt that SMEs contribute significantly to the economy of a country by creating employment opportunities, eradicating poverty, and generating export revenue. To accelerate and augment this economic contribution, the adoption of e-commerce in Bangladesh SMEs is essential. The emergence of globalization and the integration of regional economic growth have introduced new challenges as well as new opportunities for SME development in Bangladesh.
It is high time for the authorities to take stern policies to transform this huge young population into human capital and to promote technology-driven jobs. Otherwise, 4IR will be a curse instead of a blessing for us. This will create huge unemployment and widen income inequality, leading to unprecedented social and political unrest. Therefore, we urge policy-makers, the public, private sectors, trade unions, and civil society organizations to work together.
Muhammad Mehedi Masud is an Assistant Professor, Department of Development Studies, University of Malaya, Malaysia.