Ever since the agrarian society of centuries ago, people have been the main factor of production in many societies. Even with the advent of the industrial revolution, machines that were created needed a lot of human input and control to function. That reality created lots of jobs for humans to do and the industrial revival led to many economies to close to having full employment status for many generations. But as we gaze deeper into the twenty-first century; things are changing radically.
Significant advances in technology are driving a lot of changes to the tapestry and architecture of a nation state in a way never seen before. With the talk of smart cities, advances in robotics and microengineering as well as the Internet of Things (IoT), we are at the cusp of a new world. The Internet of Things refers to the ever-growing network of physical objects that feature an IP address for internet connectivity, and the communication that occurs between these objects and other Internet-enabled devices and systems.
The “Internet of things” is becoming an increasingly growing topic of conversation both in the workplace and outside of it. It’s a concept that not only has the potential to impact how we live but also how we work. Broadband Internet has become more widely available, the cost of connecting is decreasing, more devices are being created with Wi-Fi capabilities and sensors built into them, technology costs are going down, and smartphone penetration is sky-rocketing. All of these things are creating a “perfect storm” for the IoT.
Simply put, this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other). This includes everything from mobile phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of. This also applies to components of machines, for example, a jet engine of an aeroplane or the drill of an oil rig.
The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices. That’s a lot of connections (some even estimate this number to be much higher, over 100 billion). The new rule for the future is going to be, “Anything that can be connected will be connected.” There are many examples of what this might look like or what the potential value might be.
Say for example you are on your way to a meeting; your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take. If the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late. What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 a.m. and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? The possibilities are endless.
All the foregoing have huge implication for the role of human beings and employment rate in many societies. The traditional labour intensive job model is dying at an alarming rate and digitally-enables jobs are the key to the future. So as there is a massive curl of manual and analogue jobs; new digital and technology driven jobs will emerge.
This leads me to my concern about Nigeria. We are still in the manual labour mindset in our employment ethos as a nation. We are also failing to prepare our citizens for the future that is imminently going to be upon us. If the country is to modernise, we will have to embrace technology in all sphere of national life. This will, in turn, lead to massive unemployment as machine and technology take over previous manually executed function in our society. Business processes will be streamlined and automated in the new world we will find ourselves, yet the majority of our citizens are not being sensitised, trained and facilitated to reskill and upgrade their capacity to be able to leverage new technologies for national growth and society transformation.
Speaking to a friend in government a few days ago; he explained of technologies that can run our airports in such a way that if applied to the International Airport in Lagos will reduce staff numbers by seventy percent overnight. From, automatic invoicing and accounting systems, to robotics to handle luggage and so on. This model will create one of the most efficient airports in the world if implemented. But at what cost? Jobs. There will be massive unemployment as the staff currently in employment have not been equipped, trained or helped to transition to new technology jobs of the future.
If the nation is to modernise successfully; I will, therefore, advise the government of the need for a new focus on education in Nigeria. This will involve formal, informal and vocational education that will be technology focused in preparation for the future that is fast approaching. In Singapore, the government aims to make the country the first smart nation in the world. There is now a massive investment in technical education and technology training for both young and adults across that country.
The government is preparing the nation for a future that will become a reality for them in the next five to ten years. With sensors on every street corner and lampposts, lots of anonymised data is being collected in the country to inform the IoT technology that is being planned. This will automate a lot of tasks and functions in Singapore and make several current jobs redundant. Streetlights will come on not at a prescribed time but based on the weather condition. The street lamps will automatically order a new bulb for itself when it notices a burnt bulb. A lot of manual jobs will disappear but it will also create many new jobs that are technology driven, which is why the government is investing in the technical education of children and retraining of adults in technology and microengineering on a massive scale. Adult education classes are freely given to adults to reskill while still working in their current roles (that will soon become extinct). This will make transitioning very easy for the workers of Singapore to adapt to new jobs as they lose their current analogue jobs for digital explosion expected.
A lot of manual jobs will disappear under the new industrial dispensation but this will also create many new jobs that are more skilled, technology driven, which is why the government is investing in the technical education of children and retraining of adults in technology and microengineering on a massive scale in Singapore. Adult education classes are freely given to adults to reskill while still working in their current roles (that will soon become extinct). This will make transitioning very easy for the workers of Singapore to adapt to new jobs as they lose their current analogue jobs for digital explosion expected.
The Nigerian government is not approaching their duty in an integrated fashion. As the government role out new technologies, there will be job losses on an industrial scale. How many of these workers are going to be able to get a new job with the outdated analogue skills they possess? The inefficiency in many government operations in Nigeria is linked to the need to create jobs for people but not necessarily to deliver an efficient or optimised service. Our airports are an example; where there are too many agencies of government with duplicating functions, overlapping responsibilities thus slowing down passenger experience.
As this government tries to modernise our infrastructure and government procedures and processes; they should avoid creating a big unemployment problem as they go along. This will require a national revamp of our educational system and adult education infrastructure that is focused on technology skills that will be needed for the future. Solving one problem by creating another is not wise leadership in government.
New technical colleges may need to be created. The curriculum of state schools should be reviewed to place more emphasis on technology. Vocational and adult education facilities should be created. The government need to begin a massive exercise to reskill the working population in preparation for the inevitable changes that technology will bring.
A stitch in time saves nine the adage goes. Nigerian government need an integrated approach to development by doing a Change Impact and Job Impact analysis of every policy before implementation and put in place a national strategy to mitigate these impacts and prepare the population for the new world before it is too late.
Otherwise, Nigeria could end up in a lose-lose situation. Massive unemployment caused by technology-driven changes and also new technology platforms and initiatives that will fail due to lack of trained manpower to effectively manage it. These are both avoidable consequences if the government takes note and act now. God bless Nigeria.