Future of Work

By Javaid Iqbal

THE Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted labor markets worldwide. Millions of people have lost their jobs. As the economy is getting back on track, at least in developed countries, the pandemic has shown us the power of technologies and new ways to use data. Automation, along with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a double whammy for employees.

The pandemic has supercharged the adaptation of e-commerce and the swift operation of Automation and AI technologies. The cost of automating an industry is also declining. A robot that costs $1 million in 2020 might only cost $1,000 in 2030.

The World Economic Forum reported that Automation would eliminate 85 million jobs by 2025 and create new 97 million jobs. It emphasized the need for “reskilling” and “upskilling” for the workforce. According to America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics, 65 percent of children starting school today will face jobs that don’t exist yet. Data has become a critical asset for every economy, and professionals with data literacy are more appealing to prospective employers than ever before.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world, no one could have foreseen that it would completely disrupt the Hotel or Taxi industries in less than a decade. While it took the Industrial Revolution several generations, the AI revolution might happen within the span of just one generation. Moreover, the AI technologies will destroy a significant advantage that developing countries had: supply of cheap labor. As a result, India may not grow like South Korea, Singapore, or even China.

Despite India’s rapid economic growth in the last decade, the level of unemployment has also been rising. Currently, India is recording the highest number of unemployed youth. The scourge of unemployment has been brutal, especially on the educated youth. According to a report based on a survey of 160,000 households and released this year by the Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment, a person with a graduate level of education is more than twice as likely to not find a job compared with the national average. The report also states that women are more likely to be unemployed compared to men.

UNICEF head Henrietta H Fore has warned that by the year 2030, half of South Asian youth will not be able to find a decent job for the lack of skills.

One of the reasons for this is that India’s education system is unable to meet the demands of its technology-driven economy. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), India is staring at 29 million skill-deficit by 2030. According to a survey by Aspiring Minds, employers said 80 percent of Indian engineering graduates did not meet the minimum requirements of the companies looking to hire them. Coursera released its annual Global Skills Report 2021 about the state of skills in 100 countries and ranks India 67th globally. On technology and data science, it does not fare any better at rank 66th globally.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) figures, J&K has a 16.2 percent unemployment rate, which is the second-worst among states/union territories in India. Since the post abrogation of Article 370, followed by the continuous lockdown to combat the COVID pandemic, lakhs of jobs have been lost in the Kashmir region. For 8000 class IV posts, the J&K service selection board received 5.4 lakh applications, with many of them with master’s degrees.

Teachers in Kashmir are poorly trained, with a system of examination that rewards rote learning. Unfortunately, grades have become the primary element to predict students’ prospects. A college professor once asked my cousin’s friend to prepare a PowerPoint without anyone ever teaching her how to make one, and the results were not flattering.

To compete in the future, students in Kashmir need to be creative and communicate their ideas. Unfortunately, people conflate communication skills with speaking English. Communication means how you can make your point or make people understand your ideas, along with teamwork and empathy, especially as we work with people with different cultural and educational backgrounds.

In India, only 22% of schools have internet facilities, according to the Educational Ministry. While among government schools it’s only 12% and only 30% had computers.

The current culture demands that individuals have various skill areas to collaborate effectively with people belonging to different cultures. The only option left for students is to upskill themselves as they cannot wait for government intervention, and online education can help. But, Online education is not a silver bullet, and not everyone cannot use it. As many as 80% of Indian students couldn’t access online schooling during the lockdown, and many might not return to classrooms when they reopen, according to a recent study by Oxfam, which shows the digital divide between rich and poor and also between rural and urban areas.

Students have access to unlimited topics and global experts in niche subjects in online education – something otherwise not affordable or imaginable to many. These programs allow students belonging to different educational and social backgrounds to learn without any self-consciousness. With increased access and low-cost data, consumers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities are getting online to learn new skills to improve their livelihoods.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has free playlists on YouTube that cover topics like Science, Arts, and Computer science which can be accessed here. In addition, Harvard courses that are viewed by millions of students can be found here. At the same time, Stanford university courses can be found here

Python and coding can be learned here. Python is a high-level programming language used for general-purpose software engineering. Python also has a strong community around machine learning, data modeling, data analysis, and artificial intelligence (AI), with extensive resources and libraries built for these purposes.

If you think you may be interested in one of the most versatile finance degrees available.  Aswath Damodaran teaches corporate finance and valuation at the Stern School of Business at New York University and MBA courses which can be found here.

These courses can help add value to any degree that our students are pursuing.


  • The Writer Javaid Iqbal is an Economist and a Fellow at Harvard Public Health Review

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