How can we save jobs in a more automated workplace?

Automation replacing certain jobs and tasks in the workplace is inevitable. We briefly discuss ways in which countries mitigate the impact.

At the Jamaica 55 Diaspora 2017 Conference, held last month, Country Manager for global business process outsourcer, Sutherland Global Services, in Jamaica, Odetta Rockhead-Kerr, emphasised the need for the country “to invest more in its human capital in order to safeguard or sustain jobs in the Jamaica BPO sector as technology progresses” (Source: Nearshore Americas). Her position was driven by the fact that as the use of software robots in the workplace continues to increase, tasks traditionally executed by us, humans, are being, and will continue to be, automated.

The growing trend towards automation (or robotics) and artificial intelligence (AI) is issue that we, began to examine last year (see our earlier article, Will software robots make humans obsolete in the workplace?). However, as automation continues to take hold globally, it is crucial that policymakers, along with public and private sector organisations, consider and make strategic decisions the better position the workforce for what is to come.

In Jamaica, for example, the current government is placing considerable emphasis on the outsourcing services industry to solve the country’s high unemployment rate, which as of April 2017 stood at 12.3% (Source: Statistical Institute of Jamaica). As of earlier this year, the size of Jamaica’s business process outsourcing (BPO) industry was estimated at over 25,000 employees (Source: The Gleaner), but aggressive growth targets are being bandied about, ranging from achieving around 36,000 to over 50,000 employees by 2020. It therefore means that Jamaica is looking for the BPO industry to not only absorb highly skilled individuals, but also much lower-skilled workers that they hope can be successfully trained for some of the lower value segments of the industry, such as call centres.