Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Future Work 01 - Work not education makes people dumber!

How can we ensure that the workforce in a country continues to create jobs, create value and economic and other returns for its people in the current environment? The current environment is quite challenging for the employees. Those laid-off due to automation feel frustrated and find that they cannot find equivalent employment.

Economic value chains are changing rapidly. They are spreading out geographically. Skill obsolescence is quite high too with robots and computers being able to take up quite a bit of work. The profile of jobs is becoming polarised - extreme high value adding jobs (chip designer, chef, super specialist surgeons etc.) and extremely low-end (janitors etc.) Further, it is happening at an unprecedented pace.

On the contrary, the speed at which skills are being acquired and developed is quite slow. Thus, the people who have lost their manufacturing jobs to automation are not quite employable in similar pay-grade in as quick time. Two factors hinder in the process. First, the laid-off people are older and thus slower learners. Second, the skill spread is so wide that betting on the right skill, acquiring it and making a life by using it is difficult. Few unlucky ones have seen their new skills become obsolete too.

This dichotomy is a mismatch between the job profile of the economy and the skill profile of the economy. As the mismatch widens people feel more frustrated.

This wasn't the case in early years because of the nature of manufacturing jobs. The skills gained by the people working in the first factories were about organising and basic skills (turning, fitting etc.) These skills did not become obsolete only their demand did. But today these skills have been replaced by better fabrication machines and instrumentation. Thus, the skills that the workers have are not required.

The job profiles so developed as to reduce the judgement factor within the job. This makes people dumber as Adam Smith notes. Here is the quote from Adam Smith
"In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging, and unless very particular pains have been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war. The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind, and makes him regard with abhorrence the irregular, uncertain, and adventurous life of a soldier. It corrupts even the activity of his body, and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employment than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it."
Thus drained of the vitality of growth, initiative, the determined decision-making, the application of thought and the generation of ideas, such worker is thrown into the open world which values exactly that. So it may have been work and not education, as argued by Sir Ken Robinson,  that makes people dumber.