How automation is changing face of labour in India

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New Delhi: Chocko Valliappa, chief executive of Bangalore-based tech firm Vee Technologies Pvt. Ltd, has a clear directive for his 4,000-plus employees—learn and understand subjects such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and high order data analytics.

“Automation is a reality now. There is no point resisting automation at the workplace. You as a company and as employees have to save your tomorrow and prepare for day-after tomorrow,” Valliappa said over the phone from his second office in Salem, Tamil Nadu.

“The face of labour will change, and automation, adoption of robots have started making repetitive and assembly line kind of jobs redundant,” he said, adding that he was working with his team to develop technology that would equip employees to improve productivity. His technology coding firm works in areas such as healthcare, aerospace and heavy engineering.

Not just the services sector, but even manufacturing in India is adopting automation. Leading car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki India Ltd now has one robot for almost every four workers —it deploys some 5,000 robots at their Manesar and Gurgaon plants.

“There is a gradual adoption of robots and automation in sectors like automobiles, pharma, IT and ITES, financials…the labour force is changing and it will continue in India for the next several years. You will find demand for new skills…the workers and the management will have to change or help in the transition,” said Rakhi Sehgal, a labour expert who works with unions and academia on labour issues.

During this transition phase you will see job losses, said Parimala, an ex-IT worker from Tamil Nadu who turned to activism after she lost her job. She claimed her job loss is “not because of automation”—but she relates to the situation and has formed a forum for aggrieved IT employees in the southern state.

“Low- and mid-level jobs are at stake…while low=skilled junior level jobs are getting automated, the mid-level process and project management jobs are at risk too,” Parimala said.

“But companies don’t say it in as many words while retrenching people, they take help of the appraisal season to sack workers and adopt high-level technology. It cuts their cost,” she argued.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim in October 2016 said that research based on World Bank data predicted that the proportion of jobs threatened by automation in India is 69% year-on-year. This means that in a year, seven out of 10 jobs will face the heat of automation —effectively changing the face of the labour market. World Bank predicted that 77% of Chinese employees too would face the pinch.

In April, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a research paper new jobs will appear, but they may require skills that workers do not possess. “These developments have raised concern that automation could cause widespread job loss, slow wage growth, and worsen income inequality in developed and developing economies alike”.

But some experts believe that while some will lose jobs, more jobs will be created for well-skilled personnel and here all stakeholders —the government, companies, educational institutions and workers—have a role to play.

“When computer replaced typewriters in India, it created a multi-billion dollar industry. The automation, similarly is expected to create a Rs350 billion industry. A new opportunity is calling all of us,” said Valliappa.livemint