Welcome to the future. Where man is competing for jobs with robots and machines. As it is, robots are already doing jobs that only man could do a few years ago. In this changing landscape, we explore the opportunities emerging for the next generation of workers.
Three months ago, this writer walked into a bank hall in Nairobi and queued to deposit money.
“Sir, you want to deposit a cheque?” a guard asked. “No. I want to deposit money,” I replied.
“You don’t need to queue here. We have cash deposit machines,” he said, pointing to an ATM-like machine. The machine counts the money – much like cash counting machines – and issues an instant receipt at the end of the transaction. The bank does not need tellers to do the job. And indeed, out of five teller counters, only two had personnel serving clients. Welcome to the future: Where man is competing for jobs with robots and machines. As it is, robots are already doing jobs that only man could do a few decades ago.
To further drive the point home, just last week, at least four firms indicated that they would be laying off staff by the end of the year.
Telkom, Stanbic, East Africa Portland Cement and Diageo (parent company of East Africa Breweries Limited) are downsizing.
Explaining the upcoming redundancies, Charles Mudiwa, Stanbic bank CEO, offered that as the business continues with digitisation “some functions will have to be reorganised”.
Digitisation, like automation, are terms that are being used by nearly every employer. Why? You might ask.
“Because automation means faster, more efficient, cheaper, more effective and better services for the client,” says Peter Macharia, CEO at Jijenge Credit Limited – a microfinance. Peter has at least 30 years in the banking industry – having worked for a Kenyan bank for 24 years before moving on to Jijenge.
“Indeed automation has altered the work environment. The result is the decimation of jobs,” Macharia says.
World trends and projections
A 2014 report – Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace – by international real estate firms CBRE Group (USA) and China-based Genesis predicted that many careers in customer work, processing and middle management will simply ‘disappear’.
A similar report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a coalition of 36 countries across the world, predicted that within the next two decades, half of all jobs will be substantially transformed by technology. OECD estimates that 14 per cent of jobs will be completely automated in the next two decades and that 32 per cent will be vastly different from what they look like now. In yet another prediction, Swiss nonprofit, the World Economic Forum, has warned that AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robots will kill off 75 million jobs worldwide by 2022. Its Future of Jobs 2018 report, the second of its kind, is based on a survey of executives representing 15 million employees in 20 economies.
The research foresees robots swiftly replacing humans in the accounting, client management, industrial, postal and secretarial sectors. “It is a reality that students all over the world have to contend with if they want to possess relevant skills for the future economies,” says Sheila Birgen, Entrepreneurship Director at I-Hub in Nairobi.
In her work, Sheila engages start-ups, “to incubate them, pair them with partners and accelerate their business models.” It is part of a process, she says, that prepares them for a future where technology will dominate every sector of society.
“All jobs that were based on paperwork will cease to exist as communication, interaction and documentation will move online,” she says.
Adapt or perish
Corporates have no option, but to automate services or risk being pushed out by competition. As a CEO, Macharia says his job is to keep the customer happy. Automation makes service delivery faster, more efficient and cheaper for the customer – and the business.
Today, unlike five years ago, just by installing the Jijenge Credit loan application on their phones, Jijenge’s clients can access services remotely. “The app by and large eliminates the customer’s interaction with several people: credit officers, agents, paperwork staff and others. Essentially those jobs become redundant,” he explains.
This year, on August 13, the Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK) celebrated 20 years of existence. In 1999, the year PCK formed from the split of Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, its workforce numbered approximately 5, 250. As at July 1, 2019, the number has drastically reduced to 2,780.
“This is due to… automation of both front and back office operations,” the organisation said in a document shared with Hashtag.
“Very few letters are being sent today (compared to) ten or 20 years ago. Even banks no longer send account statements via post: they use emails. Internet technology, e-mail and social media, have all but rendered the mailbox obsolete. Less and less positions for traditional jobs will be available as time goes by,” says Macharia.
“Banks have fewer tellers than five years ago. Computers now automatically record cash inflows and outflows: accountants are needed less. While a firm previously could have needed 100 accountants, today they probably need 20. In the first world a motorist can drive into a petrol station, swipe a card, and fuel without needing any form of assistance,” he adds.
What the future holds
So, does this mean there will be less and less jobs: translating to higher and higher unemployment?
Sheila does not believe so. There will be enough jobs to go around, she says, only that the jobs will be unorthodox.
She says: “The world is slowly moving into a gig economy. You can think of gigs as consultancy work where people are paid commensurate to their output.”
In a gig economy, posits Pius Musyoki of Youth and Success Association – an organisation that trains young people on employability – people will be multi-skilled and will survive on multiple jobs.
“People will be paid on deliverables. 8am to 5pm jobs will be few,” he says. “In the morning one could be making a package delivery. In the afternoon, they could conduct a paid-for photo-shoot. And by evening they could be performing on stage as musicians,” Pius adds.
The Future of Jobs 2018 predicts widespread disruption in the job market. Nevertheless, the report also says that machines, robots and algorithms will create new opportunities.
The challenge, the report says, will be to retrain workers; they will need to update their skills in the areas of ‘creativity, critical thinking and persuasion’.
Jobs Sheila, Macharia, Pius, Atieno and Nancy predict will be more at risk of dying and those that will be around in the years to come:
Jobs most at risk of being replaced:
Cargo and freight agents
Jobs least at risk of being replaced:
Biochemists and biophysicists
Producers and directors