First Principles | Multitasking just got a new meaning - Hindustan Times
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First Principles | Multitasking just got a new meaning

Nov 26, 2022 07:05 PM IST

The world stands on the cusp of change driven by demographics, governed by a not-so-simplistic relationship between the rise of technology and jobs, requiring people to adapt to ‘newer jobs’.

His close-cut hair and buffed-up physique suggested the young taxi driver could be from the armed forces or the police. But despite the confident demeanour, something didn’t seem right. He was totally reliant on Google Maps. Some questions later, it turned out, this was his first day on the job. Once upon a time, he aspired to join the Indian Army. But there were others that got the Forces’ attention. He now hopes to make the cut at the State Police Force to secure a ‘permanent job’. Until then, he hopes to eke a living out as a taxi driver. The inevitable question followed: What if you don’t secure a ‘permanent job’? “I’ll stick to driving.”

Pearson’s models show that if people insist on sticking to what they learn as engineers alone, over 20% of jobs in the domain will shrink and the professional uncertainty will be as high as 68%. (Pixabay) PREMIUM
Pearson’s models show that if people insist on sticking to what they learn as engineers alone, over 20% of jobs in the domain will shrink and the professional uncertainty will be as high as 68%. (Pixabay)

His close-cut hair and buffed-up physique suggested the young taxi driver could be from the armed forces or the police. But despite the confident demeanour, something didn’t seem right. He was totally reliant on Google Maps. Some questions later, it turned out, this was his first day on the job. Once upon a time, he aspired to join the Indian Army. But there were others that got the Forces’ attention. He now hopes to make the cut at the State Police Force to secure a ‘permanent job’. Until then, he hopes to eke a living out as a taxi driver. The inevitable question followed: What if you don’t secure a ‘permanent job’? “I’ll stick to driving.”

Clearly, he hasn’t figured there is no future here or that he ought to start work on a ‘Portfolio Career’ that the savvier middle-aged kinds in urban India are experimenting with. “Being wedded to one company or career is a bad idea,” explains Venkatesh Hariharan. His last assignment was with Google. He advises technology start-ups, is invested in public policy, and takes time out to do pro-bono assignments with not-for-profit organizations. Hariharan thinks of it as managing a ‘Portfolio’ of investments. “It is complex and risky.”

People such as him are taking the plunge because the world stands on the cusp of change driven by demographics. At 70, the average Indian is living longer, and all studies have it that life expectancy will hit 82 soon. Those in their teens will now live to be at least 100. Talks are already on to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62. But this is a blip. Anecdotal evidence gathered from conversations with people deeply embedded in technology and public policy across Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi have it that people in their 50s and 60s are seen as people in their ‘extended middle age’ who must think up new careers.

The research firm Forrester has it that 69% of jobs that exist in India now will be obsolete by 2040. This does not mean fewer jobs, but newer jobs. The history of technology offers perspective on why. When Ford’s Model T stormed America at the turn of the last century beginning 1908 until 1920, there was panic. With the benefit of hindsight, it started to become evident the fears were unfounded. As Susan Lund of the International Finance Corporation explained in a podcast hosted by the McKinsey Global Institute, most people make simplistic assumptions about the relationship between the rise of technology and jobs.

Instead, she suggests, we “Think of the supplementary industries that were created by automobiles. Filling stations, automobile repair, and then, the possibilities of living farther from work, enlarging your housing by moving out where land was cheaper than it was in the central city. Not to forget vacations. With automobiles, you could go to many more spaces.” In other words, while it appears jobs are destroyed, an altogether new class of jobs gets created. People adopted and adapted. This phenomenon repeats in cycles.

Charles Handy, one of the most influential management thinkers of our times has discussed this in much detail. He makes the point that as the fiscal policies of governments come under strain and companies look elsewhere for profits, people will exit their current careers, adapt to new jobs, or new people will enter the workforce. Not just that, jobs will morph as well.

This hypothesis resonates with global education company Pearson. By way of just one example, they concluded that by 2030, engineers will be very different. They will be adept in sociology and anthropology as well to create human-centred design as well as socially perceptive so they learn to listen actively and figure out new ways to solve problems. This is because people are growing older. Pearson’s models show that if people insist on sticking to what they learn as engineers alone, over 20% of jobs in the domain will shrink and the professional uncertainty will be as high as 68%.

So, what about the taxi driver? Handy has an interesting prediction to make. “All those who now earn their living driving vehicles will either lose their jobs or find themselves upgraded to fleet navigators, supervising convoys of lorries and vans. They will be Individual Assistants (IA) to the AI that manipulates those vehicles. My guess is that you can’t have AI without a lot of IAs.”

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