Thursday 14 November 2019

'Skills revolution' urged to keep pace with technology boom

Advice: The WEF’s Saadia Zahidi has called for action
Advice: The WEF’s Saadia Zahidi has called for action

Shawn Pogatchnik

The Irish labour force's collective skillset is worsening, an invited audience including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and six Government ministers was warned yesterday.

The Irish labour force's collective skillset is worsening, an invited audience including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and six Government ministers was warned yesterday.

Teaching of critical thinking in schools here is also weak, they were told, even though it is seen as a key to competitiveness in a labour market where routine tasks are automated.

Automation will create more jobs, not fewer, but only for those with the right skills, Saadia Zahidi, director of the Centre for the New Economy and Society at the World Economic Forum (WEF), told the Future Jobs conference at Trinity Business School.

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Rather than replace staff with newer, more skilled workers, Irish employers will find it cheaper to retrain their current workforce, including older workers, even as machines make many existing labour tasks obsolete by 2022, she said.

"A re-skilling revolution is needed," she added.

Ms Zahidi told the Irish Independent that Ireland had a maximum of five years to tech-proof its training policy and supports, before the march of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and learning algorithms make many existing roles obsolete.

Citing the WEF's own Global Competitiveness Report that placed Ireland 24th overall, she said: "Ireland's ranking on the ease of finding skilled employees and the level of critical thinking taught in schools has been going down.

"That rating comes from business leaders at the forefront of assessing what types of human capital they need.

"As those numbers weaken, the window of opportunity for Ireland is quite short."

Ms Zahidi said that the world was on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution that would create close to two new human jobs for each one destroyed by tech in the coming decade.

But managing this rapid shift - without widening divisions between haves and have-nots - would require companies to work together, and to partner with schools and Government bodies, as never before.

She said such collaboration to train workers for new jobs would be crucial in Ireland's tight labour market.

"Businesses are starting to see it's much cheaper long-term to invest in re-skilling and up-skilling than to let go of that workforce," she said.

"The days of finding ready-made talent from elsewhere simply don't exist any more, and most companies are starting to rethink this."

The WEF is best known for running the annual Davos think-in in Switzerland.

It recently surveyed multinationals on what technology they would aim to adopt by 2022.

So-called big data analytics was identified by 85pc, while 75pc named web and app-driven markets and Internet of Things networks.

Meanwhile, 37pc said they expected to adopt stationary robots, 23pc humanoid robots, and 19pc aerial and underwater robots.

Ms Zahidi said adoption of such tech was rapidly shifting the ratio of work hours performed by humans and machines.

Irish Independent

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