Digital Impact on Jobs in Pakistan

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When digital transformation happens, all of Pakistan seems to be big on chat, small on action. All tech companies, from start-ups to those who hold the capital to be disrupters, the ability to translate technological and market trends into new organizational capabilities is far from easy.

More action, less talk means aligning a lean and agile organization with the ability to turn digital products into substantial profits. Paradoxically, this brings more challenges in the organization and more opportunity outside in the market. Chief Technology Officers and Chief People Officers must therefore be able to adjust their people-strategy to adapt to the transformation; making sure employee competence is tuned to turbo productivity.

Not just a developing country phenomenon for us here, the fact is that globally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are putting millions out of jobs, from the lift operator to the sales expert. What humans can do, machines can do better. Is there a tunnel at the end of the LED light? Yes of course there is because we will always need people to build the machines, humanize them and also operate them.

The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, the amount of work done by machines will jump “from 29% to more than 50% – but that this rapid shift will be accompanied by new labor-market demands that may result in more, rather than fewer, jobs.” So cautious optimism may serve tech companies in Pakistan well, but only if they act now. Sadly the Pakistani economy is notorious for inaction. Our neighboring China, now number two globally on AI skills, started digital education 20 years ago. Pakistan must gear up yesterday.

The industries that have resisted change are suffering. Take automotive industry as an illustration: 1,200 jobs were lost in the last three months alone and a further 50,000 jobs are likely to be slashed. The health of the economy is complacent in pushing tech companies, such as telcos and the innovation sector as a whole, to push back on expansion plans.

In terms of market’s own performance it is 8 percent down during the year in PKR but from international perspective, the devaluation of the Pakistani rupee made it fifth worst performing market in the world. According to the World Equity Index Ranking report 2018, out of 20 worst performing stock markets of the world (in US dollar terms), Karachi SE 100 Index was the 15th worst during the period Dec 2017 to Dec 2018. Trade value fell 44 percent to six years low of USD 65 million a day.

To take risks, CXOs must evaluate if those risks will have a fighting chance. Companies owe loyalty to the equity holders of course, but they also hold responsibility to protect and reward those willing to change. Those who understand that times have changed and reskilling is the only way to stay relevant must be the priority in a time of crunch.

Many companies now put the onus of reskilling on employees, and provide all avenues for employees to stay globally relevant. Those who saw the oncoming iceberg learned how to swim to shore. Some of Pakistan’s most relevant skills according to LinkedIn experts are Data Analyst, User Experience Designer, Marketing Managers and Human Resource Consultants etc. Jobs on the way out are Mechanical Technician, Salesperson, Electrical technician, Sales experts and Admin Assistants etc. You get the drift.

You also, perhaps get the doom. The impact of job loss on individuals is harrowing, but the impact of retaining non-skilled staff is even more harrowing. This is especially painful for those who reskilled only to suffer company breakdowns because leaders hesitated in a fast paced environment. Leaders must know when to pull the plug and layoff some staff and to do so with the right levels of monitory and learning empowerment for exiting employees.

With the current economic volatility, it will be a while before the job market for digital companies stabilize. Most developing companies went through the transition when we had our tech milk teeth growing. Now of course, we are late to the party, some jobs will go, but the question remains: will the regulatory environment be supportive of the transition? If not, more jobs will need to go.

The solution is to ensure the pace of innovation is more than the pace of redundant tech. Civilization has gone through this when the wheel was invented, when the printing press was invented all the way to the invention of the smart phone. For this current government, the main objective is to regulate the financial shocks, impact vocational skills that are tech-based and create a lasting demand for those skills.

In the meantime, the digital strategy while working for a private sector company is to embed the innovation you have in the core DNA of the organization. That is how employees, right up to the CEO, build relevance and survive job cuts.