Is Pakistan ready for the disruption that artificial intelligence and automation are bound to bring to the labour market?
t least 30 percent of all jobs are poised to become obsolete by the year 2030, as estimated by a PwC report on the long-term impact of automation on the international job market. Is Pakistan ready for the disruption that artificial intelligence and automation are bound to bring to the labour 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 percent of the Pakistani population is illiterate. Internet penetration in the country is not much better at 25 percent in 2020, according to recent World Bank data.
While the very basic ingredients of internet access and basic education are sorely missing from the labour 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 percent of this population is under the age of 30. The youth is no longer a concern for the future but one for the present.
With news of a global recession on the horizon and inflation at an all-time high, this is one of the most tumultuous times to be in the job market, particularly as a young individual.
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.
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.
Formal learning – through institutions like schools and universities – is important and universities in Pakistan have, in recent years, begun to offer courses in artificial intelligence, business analytics and data science. However, in most universities and educational institutions, these courses are reserved for students who are already studying engineering or computer science whereas such subjects are the need of the hour for students of all fields and backgrounds. Short-term courses, whether paid or free, can help bridge this structural gap between the kind of jobs in the market and the education being provided, regardless of their formal training.
Another major shift is that learning is no longer a one-time investment. Skills like cloud computing and artificial intelligence (that were virtually unheard of in the last decade are at the forefront of the labour market today and we can expect this trend to continue into the future, with the pace that technology changes accelerating more than ever before.
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.
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.
Finally, a major challenge the youth must be prepared for is the disruption that AI will bring to certain professions by making them altogether obsolete. Advancements in AI and automation are predicted to create gains for organisations across all industries but some such as jobs requiring routine manual labour or repetitive tasks may be at greater risk of being outsourced to robots than others.
While we cannot accurately forecast the exact state of specific jobs and professions, it is needless to say that impact will be substantial and young people need to be prepared for such changes. Being aware of the opportunity and the need to re-skill, therefore, become a critical skill.
Re-skilling is facilitated by the fact that in order to monetise skills that are high in demand such as analytics, coding and visualisation, individuals do not necessarily need to have formal qualifications. Even at the most prestigious workplaces in technology, such as Google, Amazon and Meta, formal degrees or qualifications in coding are not a barrier to employment as long as one is able to demonstrate his/ her mastery in the skills required. Hence, while it is likely that a number of jobs will be phased out from the global economy, the good news is that re-skilling has never been easier.
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.
Beyond what can be done at an individual level, some changes are also needed at a structural level to ensure that the youth of Pakistan are able to harness the opportunity that technology presents. Two parties, the government and the education system, have a major role to play in establishing an enabling environment for the youth to thrive, particularly if they are to engage with the upcoming technological advancements.
The government needs to create the basic infrastructure by boosting internet penetration and by establishing a secure and well-functioning gateway for international payments so that organisations can successfully conduct business abroad.
There also needs to be a push for greater IT education across all levels – primary, secondary and tertiary – and this syllabus needs to be updated as regularly as possible. Moreover, educational institutes should not restrict IT education to certain fields but ensure that a basic technical education is provided to all students.
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.
The onslaught of AI, automation and big data presents a key challenge to the youth of Pakistan but this is also an opportunity for the country to harness its huge reserve of talent to further its economic progress. We must push at both an individual and structural level for young people to commit to lifelong learning and to understand their potential place in the upcoming digital revolution.
Mahnoor Imran Sayyed is a research analyst at atomcamp, a continuous learning platform.
Naveed Iftikhar is co-founder of atomcamp, a continuous learning platform. He tweets @navift.