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Will shift to digital decimate jobs?

/ 05:10 AM August 11, 2018

In the annual gathering of Filipino project managers sponsored by the Project Management Institute last June, the impact of digitalization on our workforce stood out as a recurrent theme. Digitalization, in contrast to the more popular term digitization (i.e., converting analog into zeroes and ones), is the process of using digital technologies like machine learning and robotic process automation to increase business productivity and generate more profits.

While practically all of those asked onstage in the forum assured the audience that they have yet to come across employers who let go of their people upon shifting to digitalization, a number of people were skeptical that such would remain the case in the coming years.

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If one were to read the ominously titled “The robots coming for your job,” published by The Economist in July 2018, one can’t help but empathize with their skepticism. Drawing heavily from a study on “the twin threats of aging and automation undertaken by Marsh & McLennan’s Global Risk Center, Mercer and Oliver Wyman,” the article underlined that “countries with more low-skilled older workers in automatable occupations (i.e., repetitive administration work in an office or manual machine operation) tended to be where the older population is growing fastest. Five of the top six countries where workers are most at risk are in Asia.”

It is, thus, not an exaggeration to say that what globalization was to our workforce in the late 20th century, digitalization will be to our labor sector in the early 21st century.

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Fortunately, three complementary attitudes can help us see digitalization as an opportunity, instead of a threat  to our work life and financial wellbeing.

Learn to earn.  Now more than ever, the cost of not investing in further learning far outweighs its opposite, given the recent Oxford University study projecting a 47-percent job loss rate in the next 25 years. The good news is that anyone with access to the internet can learn a new skill, master a  second language and network with millions, thereby adding  more value to one’s work.

Thanks to MOOC (massive online open course) providers like Coursera, Degreed and edX, one can acquire and master skills that traditionally had required thousands of dollars. Even leading  universities like Harvard, Yale and Stanford have evolved their programs to leverage the Web.

Don’t go it alone.  My philosophy teacher once pointed out that the word “katotohanan” (truth) contains two critical cues to arrive at the truth. To find the truth (“hanan,” a pun on the Filipino word “nahan” [where]), one must do so with a friend (“katoto” in Filipino).

In the same vein, what is fast becoming a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world also happens to be a much smaller world precisely because of digitization. It is  much easier now to seek affirmative and developmental feedback through coaching and mentoring. This is, in fact, the whole thesis of Tim Ferris’ “Tribe of Mentors.” Everyone struggles, so each one of us can leverage other perspectives to see the bigger picture.

Unset the mindset. The most powerful way to reconsider the idea of digitalization as a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads is to check our mindset. While it is likely that digitalization will make a substantial number of jobs disappear forever, it will also bring about in its wake new problems and challenges that the robots and machines would not be able to address on their own.

Viewed from this context, digitalization can, in fact, be regarded as an opportunity, however painful and uncomfortable, for us to evolve and reinvent ourselves. Time and again, humanity has validated the insight the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius made thousands of years before digitalization, that “because we can accommodate and adapt… the mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.” Time to do this again.

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TAGS: Digitalization, digitization, Project Management Institute
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