With cost savings and rapid time to value through efficiency and scale in mind, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and complete automation were discussed in Board Rooms of many companies as a long-term goal and vision in the past. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19, businesses have received one more weapon to defend automation, that is, social distancing. Considering the situation we are in today, automation cannot be opposed though it may cause disruption in the job market.
Today we are forced to think of automation, etc not just for enhancing efficiency or for profit maximisation but also the situation demands. Social distancing is the new norm, at least in the foreseeable future and this bodes well or the proponents of automation.
But remember we are already living in a world where job losses are normal and handing over pink slips are common routine thing. In such a situation, job loss due to automation may be calamitous and will only widen the income disparity with all the resultant ill effects.
According to a study conducted in 2017, half of all work activities globally have the technical potential to be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. Though this may not happen in reality because of several social, economic and other reasons relevant to individual nations, it throws some light on the gravity of the situation. On the one hand, we are struggling to create job opportunities and on the other, there are talks about replacing people with robots to increase efficiency and consequently profits.
Even a mid-point scenario globally sees 15% job loss due to automation, AI, etc. by 2030 unless people are taught new skills. In India, job loss may happen to the extent of 10% but this ratio too is large to disrupt the social harmony and create economic problems.
In India agriculture is the main source of job generation though over the years its importance (as job creator) is slowly declining. However, in next ten years this shift will gather momentum and according to some studies, construction (despite automation taking place) sector will emerge as the main job creator. In India, the problem is likely to be aggravated because of addition of large number of people to job market every year. Studies show that while we may be able to create 100 million jobs by 2030, there will be more than equal number of people joining the market. Also, automation is likely to result in about 57 million job losses.
It’s true that even with automation, the demand for work and workers could increase as economies grow, partly fuelled by productivity growth enabled by technological progress. Rising incomes and consumption especially in developing countries like ours, increasing health care for aging societies, investment in infrastructure and energy, and other trends will create demand for work that could help to offset the displacement of workers to some extent. Additional investments such as in infrastructure and construction, beneficial in their own right, could be needed to reduce the risk of job shortages in some advanced economies.
Construction sector is expected to emerge as the main job provider if the sector is supported by proper government policies. In the ideal situation, construction sector alone can generate 60million new job by 2030. The sector is likely to account for 18% of the jobs created as against 11% at present. This sector is highly unorganised and the most neglected by the government. Most of the labour in this sector consists of migrant workers whose plight came to limelight during lockdown. So, there is urgent need on the part of the government to bring these workers into mainstream through proper regulations and protect their interest.
Therefore, the government needs to move forward pragmatically and should aim at growth that creates enough job opportunities. It should also aim at improving skillset of our labour keeping in mind our future needs.