As influential leaders, entrepreneurs, and politicians gather in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, one topic is on everyone’s mind: the impact technology is having on the workplace. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touched on the topic with concern for the speed of change. He stated that “the world of work certainly has changed a lot since I started out in business in the 1980s… The pace of change, [especially technological change], has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” This echoes the fears that many of us share about the pace of technological advancements and whether or not technology is destroying jobs. Chairman of QI Group Vijay Eswaran agrees that, in many industries, jobs are at risk, but sees hope in the ever-growing technology industry:
“From supermarket cashiers to postal workers and travel agents, industries and jobs that were considered mainstays barely a decade ago are vanishing rapidly… But from my vantage point as an entrepreneur with businesses in emerging markets, innovation is already creating jobs more quickly than automation and technology are destroying them. Entirely new industries have emerged in recent years, creating jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago [such as] app developers, YouTube content creators, social media managers, and data scientists, to name a few.” – Eswaran
Technology has always found ways to help businesses become more productive and efficient. Whether it’s through a word processing program that allows you to edit with ease or an electronic bookkeeping system that pulls data at the touch of a keystroke, technology makes life easier. You can build schedules, track employee time, process payroll, and perform a myriad of tedious tasks that previously took hours in mere minutes. A report compiled by The McKinsey Group in 2017 projected that as many as 800 million jobs globally are at risk of being replaced by automation by the year 2030.
The latest wave of technology in the workplace, beyond basic personal computers and assembly line robots, is coming to be known as Industry 4.0 and is changing the world of business as we understand it. Klaus Schwab defined the term Industry 4.0 in his 2016 book The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Since its release, the business world has been fixated on the colossal challenges that these emerging technologies pose for the future. Eswaran, however, outlines the benefits of these changing systems:
“If we look back at the last 100 years, technology has always changed the world, and more often than not, for the better. What’s important to remember is that technology isn’t creating jobs; people are. But the opportunities would not exist without technology. Innovation by entrepreneurs and their undying urge to make the world a better place has given us everything from telephones to space exploration.” – Eswaran
Industry 4.0 describes current trends in automation and data exchange technology used in the manufacturing industry. Understanding the concepts and projections outlined by Industry 4.0 provides insight on how technology is impacting the workplace in various other businesses. Industry 4.0 includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and cognitive computing. It explains how interconnectivity via advancements in technology is providing improved abilities for machines, devices, sensors, and people to connect and communicate with each other. This concept is better recognized as the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Internet of People (IoP).
This connectivity is leading to transparency within the workplace. Improved data collection methods are providing operators with the opportunity to make more educated decisions regarding their platforms. Real-time data tracking speeds up the process by which methods can be improved. Also, the lack of these tedious tasks, previously completed by employees, is freeing up time, ultimately allowing more time for innovation within the industry. Although the job market is witnessing a shift, it is not necessarily experiencing a decline.
Recent studies support this hypothesis as well. The Asian Development Bank issued a report that confirmed that the AI Industry in Asia is actually creating more jobs than it destroys. The theory outlines how technology drives higher productivity, which is the foundation for better-paid jobs and economic growth.
Malaysian entrepreneur Vijay Eswaran has expressed that, through his experience at QI, he has noticed that the benefits of technological innovation are endless, yet there are a few that stand out as game changing. One great example that Eswaran has outlined is a company’s implementation of technology to reduce waste and boost output without adding resources. This allows companies to continue to provide the highest quality products and services available while keeping their costs down. The additional revenue improves the future for each company. Not only does the technology allow the companies to stay competitive, generating more profit to improve their services, but it also allows each company to increase its funding for hiring. This means increased job opportunity and increased pay for employees.
The ability to work remotely is another notable economic improvement. New technology has given rise to remote working, teleconferencing, and co-working spaces, which have completely reshaped the workplace. Mobile and cloud technology has paved the way for instant and remote access to the internet, enabling the concept of internet-based services. Via cloud technologies,
video conferencing, and improved IM systems, employees can now work from anywhere as long as they have a strong WIFI connection. Organizations are discovering that by allowing employees to work wherever they choose, they are able to attract a wider range of qualified candidates. They can identify top talent regardless of nationality, physical limitations, or personal obligations. Not only does remote working improve diversity in the workplace but it also affords financial benefits to the company utilizing remote employees. Companies can now reduce spending on office space and, again, allocate those funds to increase employment opportunities.
Remote access to work has also created an entirely new industry based on obtaining employment via web-based application. This secondary niche is commonly recognized in the business world as the gig economy. The gig economy is a free market system in which organizations or individuals hire independent contractors for a wide variety of short-term jobs. A recent study conducted by Intuit estimated that 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors by the year 2020. There are a number of forces behind the rise of the gig economy beyond the ability to work remotely, but no matter the reason, technology is the key to the creation of these new jobs. The gig economy is part of a shifting cultural and business environment that also includes the sharing economy, the gift economy, and the barter economy.
Another positive result of technology in the workplace can be seen in the increased number of entrepreneurs within the workplace. Eswaran recently stated that the QI group is well-known for working with the “the lesser known, but perhaps more impactful… direct-selling industry.” Eswaran shared that this new opportunity “has produced many millions of micro-entrepreneurs around the world. A recent report by the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations, based in Washington, D.C., [stated that] the global direct-selling industry generated USD 189.7 billion last year and provided self-employment and/or supplemental income opportunities to approximately 116 million people worldwide.”
Eswaran also asserts that “the industry is over 100 years old and has thrived for over a century purely based on the power of human relationships and in-person sales. In the last decade, technology has supercharged the industry, giving it unprecedented growth, especially in emerging economies. It has never been easier for companies to spread the word about their products and services, getting their message out to consumers by means of social media and search engines.” No longer do entrepreneurs need massive capital to create a business. Instead, they need only an idea and a marketing platform, which often can be created at minimal costs.
The rise of the smartphone is another major factor in job creation. This trend is evident in the impact the consumer has on the distribution of services and materials. Smartphones have completely upended the way people get their information and revolutionized the way they shop. For the first time in history, consumers can shop at any time of day, and their spending habits can be broken down and analyzed like never before. They have also become more demanding with delivery times, accuracy, and value. This has fueled industry growth and created new jobs to fill the demand. The increased efficiency that technology brings means that companies are able to invest more, hire more, produce more, lower prices, and ultimately, consumers are able to purchase more.
“Today, over 40 percent of the world’s population is online, which is around 3.5 billion people. Their primary means of accessing the web is via a smartphone they carry around in their pockets. This is bound to change not just our personal lifestyles but [also] the world of business. Massive shifts in technology have resulted in significant shifts in social structures and how people contribute to society and make a living.” – Eswaran
The smartphone is also changing the dynamics in which companies do business, providing 24-7 access to the data related to their operations. Whether it be the business owner, the entrepreneur, or the employee, constant access to work related materials is improving efficiency in the workplace.
One major challenge to the concept of job growth versus job decline related to technology has to do with employees’ limited abilities. This is connected to lack of education and addresses a specific question: What happens to employees that are currently working tedious jobs and who lack the education to grow within the company? With the increased access to funds due to reduced spending, companies are actually demonstrating more corporate social responsibility. They are developing education platforms to provide improved opportunities for those who were previously at a standstill in their positions.
Eswaran is one businessman who is an advocate for this global growth. He has contributed to the development of QIUP, the Quest International University Perak located in Malaysia. Eswaran states that “ultimately, [he is] an entrepreneur, and [he wants] to develop an institution that gives birth to more entrepreneurs.” This is the forward thinking that is creating an influx in job opportunities related to technological advances and innovations.
Overall, technology has found its way into every industry and profession, and in almost every instance, it was designed to make what people do easier. Industry 4.0 hasn’t removed people from factories; instead, it has made their jobs easier, more enjoyable, and safer. Human labor is being supplemented by technology, not replaced. The increased efficiency brought on by technology is helping businesses grow, which continues to open up new jobs.
Technology has connected businesses in ways we never thought possible. It has completely transformed the way companies collaborate. It has given organizations the flexibility to connect and communicate with anyone in the world at any time. This has fostered teamwork, mutual understanding, and bonding between coworkers. This has also created an entirely new industry in the form of the gig economy. Time and time again, research suggests that technology creates more jobs than it destroys, and we simply need to adapt.
“The promise of technology doesn’t just drive entrepreneurship, but also helps solve some of the world’s big problems – poverty, climate change, pollution, etc. There can be great synergy between entrepreneurship and doing good if technology is deployed for the right objectives. Besides smart regulation and innovation in education, the emphasis for a better future should be to encourage ordinary people to dream up big businesses and keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive.” – Eswaran
Eswaran covered this topic more in-depth at the recent World Economic Forum. Hosted in Davos, Switzerland, the forum engaged some of the world’s foremost influential leaders, entrepreneurs, and politicians to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.
Be sure to check out Vijay Eswaran’s social media for other insights from the influential entrepreneur: