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Retooling workforce for digital transformation

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ILO Director-General Guy Ryder


“I am a graduate who worked in one of the multinational firms in Lagos, as a factory worker. We are over 500 working in the factory but many of us were later disengaged because the company deployed some automated machines to execute their jobs. I am back into the labour market looking for another job.”

This is the experience of Jude Makwe, as expressed to The Guardian in a chat recently speaking on change in the organisation where he worked as a factory attendant.  This expression is now a singsong amongst many Nigerians that lost their jobs to the emergence of automation in the workplace.Automation is now emerging as a real threat to jobs worldwide.

Indeed, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already transforming the world of work, but the future is hard to predict. Some see most jobs at risk of automatisation, while others argue robots will only take on a narrow range of tasks in the coming decades.

With an unprecedented digital transformation being currently experienced, driven by rapid technological progress. Disruptive technologies based on ICT (Information and Communications Technology), robots and – more recently – artificial intelligence transforming the labour markets, with important implications for employment.Recently, the National Union of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) raised an alarm over the increasing rate multinational companies operating in Nigeria are deploying robots and automated machines to execute jobs that human beings can do.

The unions stressed the urgent for need for government to weigh in on the development to forestall massive unemployment.The union argued that Nigeria is not yet matured enough for automated machines and robots to take over jobs meant to be done by humans, noting that government should tackle the increased rate of youth unemployment and ensure the common man can comfortably provide meal for his family before such could be introduced to local industries.

President of the NUFBTE, Lateef Oyelekan, called on the Federal Government to prevail on companies already using the robots to stop, stressing that the union had already petitioned the Federal Government on the matter through the Minister of Labour and Employment.Recently, the G20 met where they put forward menu of public policies to tackle challenges posed by the future of work. Even though Nigeria is not a member, the policies raised at the meeting are all part of the malaise Nigeria is suffering from.

The menu is framed around four overarching objectives – harness the benefits of technology for growth and productivity, support people during transitions, secure sustainable tax systems and ensure the best possible evidence to inform decision-making.On the future of work, the ministers agreed that technological change and digitalisation, globalisation, demographic transitions, and changing expectations about work are fundamentally altering the labour markets and creating new opportunities and challenges.

They adopted detailed policy recommendations for countries to shape a future that works for people around the globe covering skills development, social protection, social dialogue on adaptable and fair work arrangements and working conditions, regional programmes and sustainable enterprises.Experts are of the opinion that Africa is not yet prepared for the future of work as it metamorphoses especially with the use of technology.

For Nigeria, they argued that it should work together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to develop responses to prepare the country for the emerging future of work so that it does not just meet the country unprepared.The Director-General Designate, Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale said though there are many perspectives to the future of work, responses mentioned to prepare for the future of work should be driven by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment to get Nigeria prepared, stating that the ILO has done tremendous work on the future of work where Nigeria participated.

On gender perspective, he recommended that it should be incorporated into the labour laws, the need for international conventions and provisions to sustain and encourage women in the world of work to be at par with their peers.According to him: “Once it is imbedded in our laws, it becomes implementable, instead of playing lip service to improvement of women in the world of work. It becomes an offence even when you are not going to be implementing.”

The President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero, called on the need for up skilling and retooling of workers to be prepared for the new technological advantage for Nigeria to move forward in tandem with other developed economics.He argued that since workers are the people who pay taxes, and without jobs, money will not be realised from tax, adding that it was not a question of reducing workers but how the economy and its commerce would fare in the absence of people in the real economy.

A retired naval officer, Commodore Abimbola Ayuba, tasked youths to begin to prepare themselves to become relevant for the future, saying that jobs would only be left for those who can multitask.He urged the government and organisations to embark on capacity building for youths to bridge the high level of skill-gaps in order to fit for employment purposes.

Similarly, the Deputy General Secretary, National Academic Staff Union (NASU), Lagos state, Adetunji Ademisoye, said labour should re-engineer themselves into the system of digitalisation through attitudinal changes, continuous training and retraining of workers vis-a–vis modern technology so that they can fix into the system of the new evolution of the AI.He called for an urgent need to address the high rate of unemployment, saying the menace has the capacity destroy the economy and with the evolution of AI, it is going to have more negative effect on workers.

“This is the deficiency of the evolution of this digitalisation and if they fail to address it, in the next century, you will see that the labour market fully saturated with unemployment which is not going to tell well with the GDP of the country.“By 2050, there will 50 billion machines when technology will come to 5g. By the time we move into Internet of things, when there would be interactions by machines and men.  So there is need for attitudinal change, address fears and adapt to change”.

The President and chairman of council, Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), Prof. Olukunle Iyanda is of the opinion that Nigeria is just developing at a time when others have developed, and as such, “they are now imposing those work conditions of service on us. When they were in our development stage such conditions were not there. That is why some aspects of the ILO standards can create constraint for us. But when we put Nigeria first, that will mean a lot of exercise in analysis to look at what is best for Nigeria.”

For the country’s conditions of employment to rise to the ILO standard, he said: “Let us first of all create the employment opportunities. Let our industries thrive so that they can employ masses of people, then labour will become relatively scarce than the employment opportunities.“When there is plenty of work, labour would be scarce relative and thereby labour conditions would begin to improve, but when you have labour totally outstripping employment opportunity, the employer would have a determinate say in offering working conditions.

“Today, graduates are being offered meagre salaries, simply because, the supply of graduates is totally outstripped. This makes bargain power lie with the employer.  This is a system that evolves and you have to know which one pays you now and what are the possible consequences in the long run,”Iyanda said.The Director General of ILO, Guy Ryder said at the summit “The Declaration calls for employment and social policy packages for inclusive growth so that the global economy works for everyone. The measures identified in the Declaration give the G20 countries a range of options to harness the changes that are occurring in the world of work so that we create more jobs with better working conditions.

Exploring global initiatives that ensures everyone has a chance to develop their full potential so as to benefit from the new technological era; the summit agreed, “We need to create the conditions for more and better jobs. We need to provide tools and skills to those people looking for a job and those whose jobs are at risk of being replaced by automation.

“We will seek to pin down the impact that technological change is having on productivity, growth, jobs, and inequality. Following a diagnostics phase, we will also explore the policies needed to embrace the opportunities and address the challenges presented by technology. “Making the new wave of technological breakthroughs as inclusive as possible will require considerable investment in training and skills for life and work. It may also require an adaptation in our fiscal policies or structural reforms. Now is the moment to shape the opportunities and skills that prepare our citizens for change.”


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