City skyline against a blue background of binary numbers and circuit boards

There is now a widespread perception that AI (and various forms of automation) will come for your jobs. A recent BBC headline ‘AI could replace equivalent of 300 million jobs’ echoes the hidden worry of all who face the spectre of unemployment. A recent survey finds that 62% of Americans believe AI will have a major impact on jobholders overall in the next 20 years, though interestingly less than 30% think it will greatly affect them personally.

That many jobs will be lost is borne out by several industry reports. For example, reports from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) acknowledge that as many as 800 million jobs may be lost globally due to technology. Yet even more jobs will potentially be created. The net impact is widely debated, and there is a fair amount of uncertainty on both the net impact and how soon it will affect different sectors. The proliferation of industrial robots, for example, suggests that workers who perform tasks that can be substituted by robots (mainly blue-collar, routine occupations), would stand to lose most from robot adoption. Conversely, workers performing complementary tasks would actually gain, as robots would increase their productivity. A recent study by economists Daron Acemoğlu, Hans Koster and Ceren Ozgen, using Dutch data found that robot adoption leads to ‘highly heterogeneous effects on workers, in line with theoretical expectations.’ As a consequence, ‘directly affected workers seem to lose from robot adoption, while indirectly affected workers gain.’

As some experts have theorised, this sort of creative destruction takes place all the time. Ultimately people acquire the right skills even though the transition can be painful. This means, of course, that today’s and tomorrow’s workers need to gain a thorough working knowledge about emergent sectors, domains, jobs and skills. But that by itself is not enough, as there is only so much that a current worker can deviate from their existing knowledge and skill base. Thus, one needs to see what sort of overlaps there are between the combination of one’s current sector, domain, job and skills and the emerging ones, and identify the key gaps that are to be filled in. As we argue in a recent article, in the context of the India workplace, ‘For the generalist middle manager, it might actually be easier to shift to the social economy, working with or as part of NGOs, provided one has the requisite behavioural skills – rather than attempt to secure a lucrative but hyper-specialised job in, say, the green economy.’

The challenge today for educational institutions is to prepare the worker of the future who has an adaptable mindset. Thus, our traditional curriculum needs to be more multi-disciplinary, ‘supported by a framework such as ESTEEM, ‘EE’ standing for ‘emotional enablement’.

Avik Chanda, author, columnist, and business advisor.

For the worker of the future, there is a need to do this identification early and develop skills that fits in with their aptitude. Educational institutions, from schools to universities have a vital role to play in this regard. As we argue in our book Work 3.0, while STEM education is essential ‘STEM by itself is no longer the full answer. Expanding one’s cognitive abilities does not prepare one emotionally to adapt to an increasing pace of change, nor endow one with the abilities to continuously unlearn, relearn and acquire new skills to influence and motivate oneself and others, and to continuously deliver value in a workplace requiring higher-order thinking. Any framework claiming to be holistic and comprehensive can no longer ignore the dimension of emotional enablement.’

The challenge today for educational institutions is to prepare the worker of the future who has this adaptable mindset. Thus, our traditional curriculum needs to be more multi-disciplinary, ‘supported by a framework such as ESTEEM, ‘EE’ standing for ‘emotional enablement’—the process or journey by which inculcation of behavioural competencies, such as emotional intelligence, becomes second nature.’ This new framework requires educational institutions to transcend disciplinary boundaries as well as engage outside traditional academia, but the effort will pay off by creating an adaptable and diverse workforce that is needed in the twenty-first century.

Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay is Professor of Economics, Director, Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing and theme lead, 21st century transnational crime theme at the Institute for Global Innovation

Avik Chanda is a bestselling author, columnist, and business adviser, with two decades of Global Big 4 Consulting experience.

They have jointly written Work 3.0, a book on the future of work brought out by Penguin Random House, India