The jobs that will cease to exist: Should you study for them?

Peter Macharia is the CEO, Jijenge Credit Limited.

Welcome to the future. Where man is competing for jobs with robots and machines. As it is, robots are already doing jobs that only man could do a few years ago. In this changing landscape, we explore the opportunities emerging for the next generation of workers.

Three months ago, this writer walked into a bank hall in Nairobi and queued to deposit money. “Sir, you want to deposit a cheque?” a guard asked. “No. I want to deposit money,” I replied. “You don’t need to queue here. We have cash deposit machines,” he said, pointing to an ATM-like machine. The machine counts the money – much like cash counting machines – and issues an instant receipt at the end of the transaction. The bank does not need tellers to do the job. And indeed, out of five teller counters, only two had personnel serving clients. Welcome to the future: Where man is competing for jobs with robots and machines. As it is, robots are already doing jobs that only man could do a few decades ago.

To further drive the point home, just last week, at least four firms indicated that they would be laying off staff by the end of the year. Telkom, Stanbic, East Africa Portland Cement and Diageo (parent company of East Africa Breweries Limited) are downsizing. Explaining the upcoming redundancies, Charles Mudiwa, Stanbic bank CEO, offered that as the business continues with digitisation “some functions will have to be reorganised”. Digitisation, like automation, are terms that are being used by nearly every employer. Why? You might ask. “Because automation means faster, more efficient, cheaper, more effective and better services for the client,” says Peter Macharia, CEO at Jijenge Credit Limited – a microfinance. Peter has at least 30 years in the banking industry – having worked for a Kenyan bank for 24 years before moving on to Jijenge.

“Indeed automation has altered the work environment. The result is the decimation of jobs,” Macharia says. World trends and projections A 2014 report – Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace – by international real estate firms CBRE Group (USA) and China-based Genesis predicted that many careers in customer work, processing and middle management will simply ‘disappear’. A similar report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a coalition of 36 countries across the world, predicted that within the next two decades, half of all jobs will be substantially transformed by technology. OECD estimates that 14 per cent of jobs will be completely automated in the next two decades and that 32 per cent will be vastly different from what they look like now. In yet another prediction, Swiss nonprofit, the World Economic Forum, has warned that AI (Artificial Intelligence) and robots will kill off 75 million jobs worldwide by 2022. Its Future of Jobs 2018 report, the second of its kind, is based on a survey of executives representing 15 million employees in 20 economies. The research foresees robots swiftly replacing humans in the accounting, client management, industrial, postal and secretarial sectors. “It is a reality that students all over the world have to contend with if they want to possess relevant skills for the future economies,” says Sheila Birgen, Entrepreneurship Director at I-Hub in Nairobi.

In her work, Sheila engages start-ups, “to incubate them, pair them with partners and accelerate their business models.” It is part of a process, she says, that prepares them for a future where technology will dominate every sector of society. “All jobs that were based on paperwork will cease to exist as communication, interaction and documentation will move online,” she says. Adapt or perish Corporates have no option, but to automate services or risk being pushed out by competition. As a CEO, Macharia says his job is to keep the customer happy. Automation makes service delivery faster, more efficient and cheaper for the customer – and the business. Today, unlike five years ago, just by installing the Jijenge Credit loan application on their phones, Jijenge’s clients can access services remotely. “The app by and large eliminates the customer’s interaction with several people: credit officers, agents, paperwork staff and others. Essentially those jobs become redundant,” he explains.

This year, on August 13, the Postal Corporation of Kenya (PCK) celebrated 20 years of existence. In 1999, the year PCK formed from the split of Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation, its workforce numbered approximately 5, 250. As at July 1, 2019, the number has drastically reduced to 2,780. “This is due to… automation of both front and back office operations,” the organisation said in a document shared with Hashtag. “Very few letters are being sent today (compared to) ten or 20 years ago. Even banks no longer send account statements via post: they use emails. Internet technology, e-mail and social media, have all but rendered the mailbox obsolete. Less and less positions for traditional jobs will be available as time goes by,” says Macharia. “Banks have fewer tellers than five years ago. Computers now automatically record cash inflows and outflows: accountants are needed less. While a firm previously could have needed 100 accountants, today they probably need 20. In the first world a motorist can drive into a petrol station, swipe a card, and fuel without needing any form of assistance,” he adds. What the future holds So, does this mean there will be less and less jobs: translating to higher and higher unemployment? Sheila does not believe so. There will be enough jobs to go around, she says, only that the jobs will be unorthodox. She says: “The world is slowly moving into a gig economy. You can think of gigs as consultancy work where people are paid commensurate to their output.” In a gig economy, posits Pius Musyoki of Youth and Success Association – an organisation that trains young people on employability – people will be multi-skilled and will survive on multiple jobs. “People will be paid on deliverables. 8am to 5pm jobs will be few,” he says. “In the morning one could be making a package delivery. In the afternoon, they could conduct a paid-for photo-shoot. And by evening they could be performing on stage as musicians,” Pius adds. The Future of Jobs 2018 predicts widespread disruption in the job market. Nevertheless, the report also says that machines, robots, and algorithms will create new opportunities. The challenge, the report says, will be to retrain workers; they will need to update their skills in the areas of ‘creativity, critical thinking, and persuasion’. Jobs Sheila, Macharia, Pius, Atieno and Nancy predict will be more at risk of dying and those that will be around in the years to come: Jobs most at risk of being replaced:  Tellers Insurance underwriters Watch repairers Cargo and freight agents Telemarketers Accountants Library Technicians Insurance claims  Loan officers Drivers Jobs least at risk of being replaced: Biochemists and biophysicists Electronic Engineers Entertainers Producers and directors Physical therapists Religious officials  Politicians Health practitioners Civil engineers Teachers How to prepare for future jobs Fact one: Technology is replacing human brains and brawn. Fact two: There will be less 8 am to 5 pm jobs in the future. How then does a student in the university prepare to remain relevant in the economy? “For starters, equip yourself with basic computer skills. Know how to operate a computer, how to create and write on a word document, and how to use the internet,” Sheila Birgen, Entrepreneurship Director at I-Hub in Nairobi, says. Short term jobs (gigs), she says, will be advertised and applied for online. “If you can’t send an email, or sit through an interview on Skype or another online platform, you will find it hard to compete.” Dorothy Ooko, Google’s Communications and Public Affairs Manager for East and Francophone Africa, says three major dimensions of work will change: the work itself, who does the work and where the work will be done. “In the ‘gig’ economy professionals will sign up as freelancers and then move on to the next gig. Thanks to mobile technology and ubiquitous internet, working remotely will be the trend,” Dorothy says. Atieno Van Der Graaph, a co-founder of YASA says that employers today and in the future will look for skills “and not degrees”. She says: “We train jobless graduates to think of jobs as: ‘what can I do now with the skills and knowledge I have?’” The future, Sheila predicts, is also bright for those who will possess creativity intelligence and the ability to leverage artificial intelligence. “Sports will still present great opportunities. Acting, and other forms of TV entertainment, will still be relevant. E-sports and online games will be big,” she says. On the other hand, jobs like driving (with driverless cars on the way) will cease to exist. Secretarial jobs are fizzling out fast as managers can plan their time on a tab with the help of an app. Engineers – to operate, repair and improve on robots and machines – will be having a field day, Sheila says. “And medical health professionals like doctors and nurses will still be needed as it is a field that requires the human mind to make certain interpretations,” she says. Lawyers, Sheila says, will still be around. “But how they render services will completely be different. Clients, for instance, will interact more with lawyers virtually rather than face-to-face,” she says. That said, Sheila opines that it is time for policy makers to review our education system. “Education needs to evolve with the changing times,” she says. “All courses – in universities and colleges – need to be reviewed.” It is a sentiment that Nancy Mathenge, manager in charge of training and development at Postal Corporation of Kenya, shares. Nancy says: “The world is moving towards tech. When you graduate, you need to ask yourself, ‘can I fit the knowledge I have gained with present and future technology?’” Both Nancy and Atieno encourage students to focus on self-employment rather than being employed because firms will hire less in this age of automation.

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