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The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known Industry 4.0, is disrupting and will continue to disrupt the way we live, learn and work. While certain jobs will fade away, others will flourish, and jobs that don’t even exist today will become more commonplace.
The 1st Industrial Revolution that began in mid-eighteenth century speeded up over time, turning into the 2nd and 3rd revolutions by late twentieth century and recently entering the 4th phase of Industrial Revolution. It is contended that ‘this phase is not merely a prolongation of the 3rd Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a new and distinct one’. In short, the 1st Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production; the 2nd used electric power and oil to create mass production; and the 3rd used electronics and information technology to automate production.
The three revolutions are now succeeded by the fourth which is considered not merely as an extension of the earlier revolutions but rather a distinct one in respect of velocity, scope and systems impact. As observed by Klaus Schwab: The speed of current breakthroughs is unprecedented; It is evolving at an exponential rather than linear pace; It is disrupting almost every industry in every country; and The breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance.
The world has witnessed unprecedented progress in the past two and a half centuries, mainly attributed to industrialization. The 21st century is the age of technology. Digital literacy and data literacy are increasingly cited as the skills most in demand by companies across the board. No longer are these just an exclusive requirement for workers in technology or engineering. Today, all professionals, whether they are healthcare workers, government officials or business managers, must understand and learn how to harness the power of artificial intelligence and big data. At least 30% of all jobs are poised to become obsolete by the year 2030. Is Pakistan ready for the disruption that artificial intelligence and automation are bound to bring to the labor market? The simple answer is: No. To begin with, an overwhelming number of Pakistanis are unable to read and write.
The Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training estimates that nearly 40% of the Pakistani population is illiterate. Internet penetration in the country is not much better at 25% in 2020, according to recent World Bank data. While the very basic ingredients of internet access and basic education are sorely missing from the labor force, the population continues to grow exponentially. Much has been said about the youth bulge in Pakistan. Pakistan currently hosts the world’s fifth largest population and 64% of this population is under the age of 30. The youth is no longer a concern for the future but one for the present.
Labor markets globally have undergone tremendous disruptions and transformations from the adoption of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies and digitalization. These trends have had positive and negative bearings on jobs on one hand, enhancing productivity and improved business practices, and on the other hand, causing job losses and skills shortages. However, it is clear that these new technologies are reshaping labor markets, employment, and growth in significant ways.
Nearly all occupations are impacted by the deployment of 4IR technologies, calling for timely policy actions to mitigate labor market disruptions and facilitate skills development and inclusion to help value addition to firm and businesses. It is anticipated that there will be both job losses and job gains from the deployment of 4IR technologies. To further boost job gains and help workers to remain employed in jobs that may be transformed by 4IR technologies, concrete efforts are needed to improve the readiness of industries and individuals to make the transition. Developing countries in particular need to ensure appropriate policy frameworks to prepare the workforce of tomorrow for 4IR to maintain and strengthen their comparative advantage in global markets. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies have the potential to significantly disrupt labor markets. While AI and automation can augment the productivity of some workers, they can replace the work done by others and will likely transform almost all occupations at least to some degree. Rising automation is happening in a period of growing economic inequality, raising fears of mass technological unemployment and a renewed call for policy efforts to address the consequences of technological change.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is further accelerating the digital transformation of businesses and jobs across all industries. It is anticipated that many new digital strategies adopted during COVID-19 may not completely disappear even beyond the pandemic. To better understand the implications of 4IR on the future of jobs and to assess the readiness of education and training institutions to prepare workers for future jobs, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) undertook the study Assessing Implications of Industry 4.0 on Jobs and Skills in High-Growth Industries in Central Asia, which seeks to capture the anticipated transformations in jobs, tasks, and skills, and to outline policy directions to prepare the workforce for future jobs, particularly in the post-COVID-19 world. As such, a huge shift is needed in the way that the youth conceive the kind of work they can do and the skills they need to do it. To adapt to a constantly changing world, young people need to grasp the significance of digital literacy and seek avenues to stay up to date with the latest developments. One major benefit of the internet is the advent of online and continuous learning platforms. With countless short courses being offered on a host of digital skills from basic Excel and Power BI to highly advanced data science, the internet offers a wealth of resources that can be leveraged by even the most basic of beginners to up-skill and re-skill.
Pakistan’s rising investments in automation, e-commerce, digital payment systems and more requires the youth workforce to keep pace with new technologies. Such growth poses many new opportunities for the nation, including modernizing technology and making tasks such as digital banking and online learning easier. Therefore, the youth must now make an active effort to stay up to date with the latest advancements in technology and software and be open to learning new skills through resources online in their day-to-day routines.
It is critical that young people understand that in the 21st Century, learning and working are no longer binary categories but rather elements that must complement each other for an optimal career. The top 10 skills of 2025 include: Technology Use & Monitoring, Technology Design, Critical Thinking & Analysis, Active Learning & Learning Strategies, Reasoning, Problem Solving & Ideation, Analytical Thinking & Innovation, Resilience & Stress Tolerance, Complex Problem Solving, Leadership & Social Influence, and Creativity & Originality. These skills can take the Pakistani youth beyond their current capabilities by smoothing their transition into the workforce while giving existing employees opportunities for career advancement. Data science is a rapidly growing field across the world. One does not need a computer science degree to excel in this field. Pakistani youth need to learn data science through local and international online learning platforms to find global jobs. Such jobs can help Pakistan earn precious foreign exchange and can also enhance Pakistan’s global outreach as a talent hub in data science and AI. Being a low- or no-code field, data science is an especially promising career opportunity for social science and engineering graduates.
Finally, a major challenge the youth must be prepared for is the disruption that artificial intelligence will bring to certain professions by making them altogether obsolete. Advancements in AI and automation are predicted to create gains for organizations across all industries but some such as jobs requiring routine manual labor or repetitive tasks may be at greater risk of being outsourced to robots than others. The 5th Industrial Revolution is full of opportunities and challenges. It has the potential to raise productivity and human welfare to new heights. New and innovative ways of producing and marketing of goods and services are reducing cost, improving quality and enhancing productivity. It is making human life more comfortable, enjoyable and durable. A unique feature is the chance that it provides to talent to effectively contribute in economic growth and human welfare. At the same time, it is exposing life to grave harm and danger also. Some fear that unbridled technical advancement may dehumanize life and decompose ethical and moral values.
This feeling is not baseless and the issues should be addressed through concerted efforts at national and global levels. The opportunity should be grasped to mold the revolution and direct it towards a future that reflects our common objectives and values. The government can also support formal and informal initiatives that provide young people with the training they need and ensure that there is awareness amongst the youth about the changes that the job market is to see in the future.