Upskilling and retraining workforces: the way forward

The fourth industrial revolution is underway, characterized by the advent of groundbreaking technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics, 3-D printing, Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data. Digital transformation is advancing at a breakneck pace and no sector is impervious to it. If businesses are to remain competitive, they have no option but to jump onto the digital bandwagon, in one form or another. Some of the world’s leading organizations, such as Amazon, have already deployed robots to perform duties in their warehouses, at the expense of manual labour. Equipped with around 1,000 robots in 2013, Amazon has since scaled its robot units to 100,000 in the span of a mere five years. It’s safe to say that these numbers also translate to corporate downsizing and reduced employment opportunities for people, but this is not a trend that Amazon is alone in pursuing.

According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, 60% of occupations could have over 30% of their activities automated soon(1). Automation is expected to completely engulf 5% of employment generating activities, and effect 45% of the total, through some measure of direct impact. Although there are two sides to the automation story, its detrimental effect on the future of jobs is indisputable. Therefore, in order to fuel future economic growth, sustain profit generation, mitigate the impact of technology and ensure future-proof workforces, there is a growing consensus on the critical need for retraining and upskilling existing workforces.

Tectonic shifts underway

Given the current technological climate, the labor market is bracing for a huge disruption. Sectors with significant logistics activities, such as e-commerce and real estate, hold such concerns in particular. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is making great strides, accompanied by breakthroughs in AI. These technologies could forever transform the hiring and skilling landscape. Economists believe that automation could create a gulf between returns on capital and returns on labor, paving the way for societal inequality. There could emerge an increasing distinction in outcomes between high-skilled professionals and their lower-skilled compatriots, with the latter bearing the brunt of lower employment opportunities.

Advances in technology have become a source of constant surprises for businesses. When confronted with unanticipated changes, enterprises that are not future-proof and lacking a ready response, can easily falter. Incumbent value chains can lose ground to new entrants equipped with disruptive and competitive technologies almost overnight. According to Sudhakar Rao, Chairman of Gemini Property Developers, the labor market is riddled with challenges posed by automation and emerging technologies. “These changes are delivering a wake-up call for companies to ramp up their efforts in reskilling their workforces, so that they stay ahead of the curve,” Sudhakar Rao suggests.

Reskilling: The need of the hour

Regardless of the sector, reskilling strategies need to be cognizant of emerging technologies. RPA certifications, cybersecurity skills, technology adoption, action-oriented outlook and enriched decision-making are some of the talking points that are driving this conversation. Despite the costs incurred, companies are being urged to reskill through stakeholder and multi-industry collaboration. Within the context of the MENA region, only 62% of full human capital potential has been realized(2), according to the World Economic Forum. The regional employment rate, within high-skilled jobs, is an average of 21%, with the UAE leading the way in the segment.

According to Sudhakar Rao, in the age of winner-takes-all economics, reskilling today’s professionals is pivotal not just for private firms but for countries in general. “A diverse cross-section of opportunities and business potential can go in vain in the dearth of necessary skill-sets. Competitive economies like the UAE can unlock massive potential, accelerate socio-economic growth and alleviate automation concerns, by reskilling workforces in an effective manner”, Sudhakar Rao recommends.

How Dubai can leverage these trends

The city of Dubai is well positioned to take automation and technological disruption in its stride. Dubai Cares, a philanthropic organization which is part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, recently entered a strategic partnership with the World Economic Forum to support the reskilling of 15 million people by 2021(3). In the private real estate sector, leading firms have been proactive in reskilling their workforces for some time already. Industry leaders in the construction industry, and the local developer community, have been establishing designated academies for the reskilling of real estate workers, with a focus on disruptive technologies like Proptech.

Big Data and AI have been responded to with enthusiastic adoption, in the Dubai real estate sector. While Big Data has revolutionized brokerage, investment calculation, customer engagement and marketing campaigns, AI has gained a foothold through smart homes. With increased automation being imminent, assimilation and reskilling initiatives are already well underway in Dubai. “It is as much about being accommodating as it is about responding to new challenges. While we cannot turn a blind eye to emerging technologies, measures have to be taken to safeguard the interest of workforces” Sudhakar Rao explains. “The importance of reskilling cannot be downplayed. The impact created by RPA has greater potential for disruption than previous generations of technology. Taking the necessary steps to adapt will be the difference between leveraging it as an opportunity, or being rendered obsolete by it.”


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