Are we heading for a Conceptual Era? | Sunday Observer

Are we heading for a Conceptual Era?

From the Stone Age to the Agricultural Era and then to the Industrial Age and finally to the Information Age, society has come a long way. Now where are we heading for? This could be debated.

Prof. H.D. Karunaratne of the Faculty of Management and Finance, University of Colombo, says that we are being driven towards an era called the ‘Conceptual Era’.

In a world that’s going towards robotics, machine learning and big data at an unbelievable pace, jobs for the people are also being rapidly replaced by robots. Therefore, the job market is going to be robot centric while people will have to engage more in conceptual work.

Technology and labour force

In the foreward of the World Bank’s latest report; The changing nature of work, President of the World Bank Group Jim Yong Kim states:

“Machines are coming to take our jobs” has been a concern for hundreds of years—at least since the industrialisation of weaving in the early 18th century, which raised productivity and also fears that thousands of workers would be thrown out on the streets. Innovation and technological progress have caused disruption, but they have created more prosperity than they have destroyed. Yet today, we are riding a new wave of uncertainty as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate and technology affects every part of our lives”.

According to the report, 1.4 million new industrial robots will be in operation by 2019, raising the total to 2.6 million worldwide. Germany, Korea, and Singapore were the highest in Robot density per worker in 2018.Yet in all of those economies, despite the high prevalence of robots, the employment rate remains tall.

“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. He was talking about swapping employees for machines”. (WB report)

In this context, cognitive skills of the labour force is what would matter in securing their job suitability in the future.

“Attitudes are the biggest challenge for us. We still believe that, just by passing out from the school or university we can get jobs. But the world has changed dramatically. Now employment opportunities are skill based. Therefore, the current and future labour force of the country should focus on skills development rather than paper qualifications” said Prof. Karunaratne.

Understanding the aforementioned changes in the labour market globally and internally, the Government of Sri Lanka should also focus on two key areas as an immediate plan, Prof. Karunaratne said.

“Developing the education and training modules in technical colleges is a must,” he said. However, in Sri Lanka, still the recognition for technical education is very little, as it is considered a pathway for school dropouts. For the rest of the world, it is the opposite. Plumbers, motor mechanics, chefs, care givers are highly paid, high demand jobs.

Language skill is another aspect Prof. Karunaratne highlighted. With the growing demand for international languages it will be a great advantage for Sri Lankans in finding jobs not internationally but here too.

“If you invest two full years in learning a language, you can surely master it. I know it by experience. Sometimes people go after degree programs even without knowing what they are going to do with it. My advice to them is to learn a language properly because it’s a lifelong investment,” he said.

Skills and employability

In this context, out of nearly 10,000 government schools 6,000 schools teach in Sinhala and 3,000 teach in Tamil. The next generation will still find a wide gap between skills and employability.

“I’ll give a good example. When I visited Singapore some time ago, there was a taxi driver who got very friendly with me. We kept talking on matters related to both our countries. At the end of the tour, I asked him to pick me up in the evening. He said he cannot, because he goes to university in the evening to learn Japanese so he can serve the Japanese clientele and earn more,” said Prof. Karunaratne.

It is widely accepted that the Port City being built could be of key economical advantage to the country. Its direct impact would generate more than 100,000 jobs reportedly. But the problem is whether we have a labour force suitable for these emerging job markets such as Financial Engineering and Business Analytics.

If we couldn’t meet these demands, flooding job opportunities in the Port City to foreigners will be something inevitable.