The World Development Report (WDR) 2019: The Changing Nature of Work studies how the nature of work is changing as a result of advances in technology today. Work is constantly reshaped by technological progress. Digital technology is also changing how people work and the terms on which they work. Pakistan ranks 7th in the world with 6 million of its citizens proceeded abroad for employment in 2019.
Ninety-six per cent of these emigrants moved to Gulf Countries primarily to Saudi Arabia and UAE for earning a better livelihood. Majority of these migrants work in white collar occupations like drivers, mason and electricians. These occupations are considered low-skilled hence leading to lower wages for workers hired in these sectors.
According to World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs” report, with the unfolding of Fourth Industrial Revolution, companies are seeking to harness new and emerging technologies to reach higher levels of efficiency of production and consumption, expand into new markets, and compete on new products for a global consumer base composed increasingly of digital natives.
The report suggests that human share of labour hours will drop from 71% to 58% by 2025. Machines and algorithms will increase their contribution to specific job tasks by an average of 57%.
In purely quantitative terms, 75 million current job roles may be displaced by the shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms, while 133 million new job roles may emerge at the same time.
Growing occupations include roles such as Data Analysts, Software and Applications Developers and E-commerce and Social Media Specialists – jobs that are significantly based on, and enhanced by, the use of technology.
Keeping in view the rapid changes in technology and its impact on labor market, Pakistan needs to take immediate steps to prepare its workforce for future job roles and to address other issues of migration cycle that our diaspora or intended emigrant faces at the start of this cycle.
Some of the major issues confronted by job seekers who plan to travel abroad in search of better life are: (1) Lack of relevant in-demand skills: Given the wave of new technologies and trends disrupting business models and the changing division of labour between workers and machines transforming current job profiles, digital skill shortage has become critical problem for many employers and companies. In Europe alone there will be 900,000 unfilled vacancies by 2020 due to a lack of digital skills. Unfortunately, roles that have been declared redundant by World Economic Forum are still the ones that Pakistan exports i.e. Drivers, Electricians and Repairers etc.
The need of the hour is to reinvent vocational training for the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, broadening its appeal beyond traditional low- and medium-skilled occupations. National Vocational & Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) should play important role to meet skill demand and enter into Global Skills Partnerships with host countries to train our workforce. (2) Non-availability of Database: In this era of Fourth Industrial Revolution , Data plays a very important role in correct decision making and formulation of evidence based policies. Pakistan faces this issue of lack of database of potential candidates having required qualification for future jobs. This in-turn leads to monopoly of recruiting agencies (OEPs) that use services of sub-agents to hire people.
There is dire need to use latest technologies like Cloud Services and Blockchain to create a database of our workforce that is in quick access of employers for hiring. These technologies will also solve the problem of fake certification and visa trading as data will be stored on cloud servers or blockchain ledgers making it immutable. (3) High Cost of Remittances: The average cost of sending remittances around the world stands at 8% despite the set target of 3% in SDGs. As per World Bank Report on Cost of Remittances for every $200, Pakistani migrants pay following amounts in different countries:
KSA to Pak=$7, UAE to Pak = $4.5, Qatar to Pak= $8.61, UK to Pak=$8.56 and US to Pak=$10.6
Costs associated with sending remittances through official channels for workers is high and the process at times slow or burdensome, which is why many turn towards such informal channels of Hawala and Hundi. But the single most important factor leading to high remittance prices is a lack of transparency in the market. It is difficult for consumers to compare prices.
There is an urgent need for financial inclusion and greater adoption of e-payments for our migrant workers. Pakistan has all the ingredients for a digital financial revolution. The costs of remittances remain high for cash based transactions. However, once money is digitized and handled through a mobile payments application, the cost is drastically reduced. Recent initiatives by Government on mobile payments like M-Wallet and collaboration of Pakistan Post with NBP is a welcoming step in this regard. (4) Reliance on Gulf Countries: Pakistani emigrants choose countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as their primary destination for two major reasons:
(1) high per capita income in these countries, (2) huge demand for low or semi-skilled workers for sectors like construction and domestic services. However, countries that depend on natural resources often end up in what is famously known as “Dutch Disease”. One sector grows while other sectors are neglected. This is the reason why there was a low demand for workforce in GCC after a drop in oil prices and slow activity in construction and oil sector.
In addition to that, Economic growth in the Arab States Region is expected to slow down again to 2.7% in 2020. Its worth mentioning that recent crises in Middle East after the killing of General Sulemani of Iranian Revolutionary Guard has again turned these economies volatile.
Pakistan should look beyond GCC economies and explore new avenues that rely on technology and manufacturing. Our workforce share to USA and Europe is very negligible while 1% Indian diaspora is responsible for 8% of tech startups in US. Looking towards new markets would not only increase financial dividends but also help in promoting better image of Pakistan in these countries and lets not forget about the benefits of Brain Gain, of which Taniya Aidrus is a good example to quote here.
At the end, recent initiatives taken by Government of Pakistan like President’s Initiative for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Pakistan and NUST Technology Park are great steps in equipping our youth with modern skills and to prepare them for Jobs of the Future. Pakistan is blessed with talented diaspora and they have all the potential to change the fate of our beloved country.
—The writer is a graduate of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.