As the debate on job growth in India and the role played by technology in it assumes greater significance, panelists at the IE Thinc discussion on “Will tech open up the Indian jobs market?”, organised by The Indian Express, said that technology is expected to fuel creation of employment in the country going ahead. The panel comprised Niti Aayog member Bibek Debroy, India director of International Growth Centre Pronab Sen, Director-Seller Enablement of Amazon India Archana Vohra, Founder & chief executive officer (CEO) of Little Black Book Suchita Salwan, Managing Director of Technopak Arvind Singhal, and co-founder of think-tank iSPIRT Sharad Sharma.
Singhal pointed out that technology would help create good quality jobs and enable growth in sectors such as textile, retail, food processing and food service, leather and footwear, and tourism, which are estimated to have created around 4.5 million jobs per year in the last 4-5 years. “The five sectors form such a large part of our employment base. I don’t see technology disrupting them in a negative way. I see technology enabling their growth further, and good quality jobs,” he said.
Concurring with Singhal, Archana Vohra said that adoption of technology would help create a number of new job profiles that may not exist today. “Specific to the e-commerce space, the way it’s growing in India, we will bring in technology and innovation where it is required. There will be a constant drive to enable people who are not yet online, not yet e-tailing, and need to get skilled. That entire universe will continue to work, and continue to be trained, and that’s where jobs will get created,” she said.
Technology is also expected to be a key driver in making India data rich, which, Sharad Sharma, said could power a “credit-boom” in the country for people, who have no collateral, but data at their disposal. This data, he said, could be a result of the existing platforms, such as Aadhaar, and GST. “That credit supercycle will create a job-cycle, and all of this could pan out in the next 7-10 years. Of course, if we don’t make certain policy changes, this can be brought to a halt. Therefore, we also need enabling policies that can help this play out,” he said.
However, with the new kind of jobs that growth of technology is expected to spawn, the panelists also highlighted the importance of upgrading the skill sets of the existing labour force to make them relevant to the evolving technology. “The upskilling of the labour force in our country is happening at an extremely poor rate. A person who graduated with a marketing degree, now has to upskill to more digital marketing-based roles. Education is no more the four years at college, it is about upskilling yourself at the rate at which technology is growing,” Salwan said.
Debroy, too, raised the issue of skilling, and said that delivery of skills varies enormously across the country, considering that jobs are being created in one part of the nation, and the labour force is expanding in another. “India is a very heterogeneous country, and jobs are being created in certain parts of the country, and the entrance in the labour force is in the other parts of the country. The intermediation is not very efficient, and even the skill delivery varies enormously across the country,” he said.
Automation, which has been pegged by several experts to take away a number of jobs in the future, was also among one of the concerns highlighted by panelists during the discussion. Pronab Sen, who is also a former chief statistician of India, said that a balance is must between various kinds of technology such as one that is related to processing of information, automation, and one that helps in material-saving.
Sen said that labour displacement through automation was a natural force in any economic system. “Automation and labour displacement technology comes from a natural force in any economic system, which is that over time people want to get better, governments want them to get better, labour costs go up, capital costs are coming down, and as a result there is a shift from labour to capital. That’s what automation does,” he said.
Salwan also said that the essence of technology was to as efficient as possible through a product. “It’s a common practice in India to involve humans for solving problems, but world over, products solve problems, people don’t. People build products that solve large-scale problems. At the end of the day, technology is meant to make things a lot more efficient, and unfortunately people are fallible, products should not. But that is in the far future,” she said.