Get ready for the rise of machines in the Jamaican workforce. Recently the National Commercial Bank Group (NCBG) laid off 200 workers. Speaking in previous media reports, Dennis Cohen, deputy CEO, NCB Financial Group, explained that as the company invested in efficient technology, humans would be streamlined. Cohen stated, “The fact is that it is always happening because we are constantly making changes, and there may be a number today but a bit of a trickle tomorrow.” Meanwhile First Global Bank recently invested in technology to allow for virtual tellers at its Liguanea branch.
Those two examples are taken from the banking sector. Companies like Blue Dot Data Intelligence use tablets, eye patterns and heartbeats to track consumer reaction to goods and services, and thus remove the need for bulky paper surveys and the time delay that comes with that.
Welcome to the new world of work in Jamaica and around the world.
According to Dr Noel Brown – head, School of Engineering and associate professor at the University of Technology, who presented at the recently concluded Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Regional Conference at the Pegasus Hotel – by 2019, sectors from agriculture to finance will be visibly impacted by robotics and artificial intelligence.
In fact, Dr Brown proclaimed that 20 per cent of customer service jobs will be robotic in nature, as the repetitive nature of the job allows for “bots” to handle bookings and resolve issues without human intervention.
While the effects of artificial intelligence have been seen in the banking sector, where ATMs have replaced human tellers in providing 24/7 access to funds, Brown suggests that the agriculture sector in Jamaica is ripe for robotics and artificial intelligence.
For example, robotic applications can take soil samples to determine moisture levels, or measure weed and insect infestations by using cameras. According to Brown, the use of robotics will result in improved agricultural output.
“We can see where the infusion of robotics in agriculture will lead to increased productivity, improved crop yield, pest control, reduction in costs, and reduction in spoilage.”
Referring to redundancies at the bank, Cohen explained that the trend in the job market in Jamaica is moving to new levels of specialisation.
In a previous article, Cohen noted that the strategy has led NCB Financial to new opportunities as well as the need to develop a new type of talent pool.
“We've embarked on a digital agenda, where we are looking at providing a more digital experience for our customers. so within that context, [some] roles will become redundant, and new roles are being created at the same time,” he said.
“There is a demand for programmers, data specialists, programme managers in implementing our agile programme, and we have a need for agile coaches, scrum masters, data interface designers.”
Career strategist and UWI researcher Dr Carolyn Hayle said that in every field of work in Jamaica, those without the ability to leverage technology will be left behind.
Financial technology, real estate software management, virtual health care, and the like, are fields that Hayle has been pushing for her clients to consider as they build their career maps.
Hayle explained that, according to James Manyika of the McKinsey Global Institute, “Automation, digital platforms, and other innovations are changing the fundamental nature of work. Understanding these shifts can help policy-makers, business leaders and workers to move forward.”
There is an adage that says, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” Those who are highly technical will make a good living. Those who are not highly skilled will feel the impact on their salaries because there will be more people in the same category of work seeking employment. It's basic economics – supply and demand. We know these things, so we can plan for them.
“One of the complaints about artificial intelligence is that it lacks empathy,” Hayle noted. “It is unlikely that it will ever replace humans in areas that are underpinned by empathy, such as the healthcare sector. So right away this is an area in which we can begin to improve our skills.”
Additionally, Hayle shared, “More jobs are going online, so people can now work remotely as independent contractors. This may require that you acquire some new skills: self-assessment, self-motivation, reliability, and self-discipline. Working remotely has at least two downsides: 1) the unpredictability of income, and (2) no job benefits. However, this gap provides an opportunity to those offering health insurance coverage to independent contractors. The skills you need to become a successful independent worker can be acquired or improved upon at minimal cost. You can practise these every day.”
Hayle pointed out that Mayinka suggests nine courses of action for policymakers to prepare for the impact of artificial intelligence:
1. Evolve education systems and learning for a changed workplace.
2. Determine how the private sector can drive training.
3. Create incentives for private-sector investment to treat human capital like other capital.
4. Explore public-private partnerships to stimulate investment in enabling infrastructure.
5. Rethink incomes.
6. Embrace technology-enabled solutions.
7. Focus on job creation.
8. Innovate how humans work alongside machines.
9. Capture the productivity benefits of technology.
“We have ample time to prepare, but we must prepare,” asserted Hayle.
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