Where have all those jobs gone – Who took my job?

Piyush Srivastava

My father worked in Indian Air Force as a Fighter Plane Technician, and we used to travel from one city to another as a routine that would be repeated every three-four year. There are a few memories of my childhood when I saw people doing different jobs. I was in class 5th, and I remember our row quarters were very close to the airport in Delhi.

Every Saturday evening two-three people use to come in a cycle rickshaw loaded with a huge earthen oven called Tandoor. Two people will set up the oven on the ground, unload a sack full of dried wooden logs, and lay a folding wooden table with a tablecloth on top of it. When it was becoming dark the oven was fired, the table has laid with large steel plates, a bowl of home-made butter and a small cloth piece tied like a small ball dipped in slowly melting butter. It was a regular ritual every Sunday. Women will line up with ready flour dough, the two people will perform a rhythmic sequence of making beautifully baked round flour bread called Tandoori Roti. One person uses his hands to make the dough in even round-shaped bread and sticks it on the burning hot inner wall of the oven and goes on to make new loaves of bread from the dough in front of him. The other person holding two iron rods pointed at the other end and like a magician will pull out the sweetly smelling bread when it is done. Fluffy, brown, and tempting. The pieces of bread will be laid on the table and the other guy will take out the small piece of cloth already dipped in white exotic tasting butter and spread the butter on the bread and hand over all bread to the lady who bought the dough. The bread was collected, and the lady will put some coins on the table. The transaction is completed. This entire ritual was also called “Sanjha Choolha” or a Community Oven.

This was one job where I saw two people employed. There were many quarters in the Air Force Colony and I am sure ours was not the only block to utilize this service to have tasty tandoori bread on Sundays coming straight out of the temporarily set up Oven. I guess many people were employed in this job of making bread on Sundays and earning their livelihoods.

There were many jobs like this still imprinted in my memories.

One guy came in the afternoon and set up a hand-run metallic fan that blows heat from the other end of a device and uses white tin rods to melt from the heat and coating the alloy surface on copper or brass utensils. It was done to make these utensils inside absolutely white bright. We used to call him “Kalai Wala”.

This was a job.

Now some of you will recall the jobs of guys who separated raw cotton into fine fiber or used old cotton by shredding to make it look fluffier and giving you an almost new quilt or pillow. He was called Dhunakiya in Hindi.

This was a job.

The guy who roasted your corn, rice, paddy, and gram called Bhad Bhooja.

This was a job.

When my grandfather was reading his book or a newspaper in the hot summer on his chair, a guy sitting on a stool on his back pulling a rope attached to a large rod hung on the roof with a heavy cloth hung from it. He was constantly doing this to fan the air in the room where my grandfather was reading.

This was a job.

Ever heard of these jobs?

Who took away those jobs? What happened to people who were making a living while doing these jobs?

If some of you are thinking that I am a character who just walked up to you from the 16th century, I will understand. But I am talking of the late sixties and early seventies.

Cut to the Eighties and Nineties.

A khaki dressed man ringing the bell of your house to deliver a letter sent to you from your sister who lived in the US. The man in khaki was called a postman. This was a job.

Source: bijits.wordpress.com

You went to the bank every 2nd or 3rd of the month when your salary would have been credited. You went into a noisy bank, buzzing with people, filled up a yellow withdrawal slip, collected a metal token, and sat down on waiting seats in the bank to be called for your turn. Your number is called by the cashier behind the window, you go to the counter, bend down, slide your hand with your cheque, signed on the front and back (in front of the cashier). The cashier looked at you, at the cheque, both sides, then pulled a bulky register with green pages getting worn out at the edges, opened the register, flipped a few pages forward and backward, and finally found some page with your name and signature on it. She tallies your signature on the cheque with the one in the register and to your relief closes the register, places it back on the shelf and asks you with stress still on her face, “I have only hundreds, is it okay?”

She was a cashier, and this was her job.

This was 1987. You wanted to make an STD call to your father-in-law. Not every house will have a phone these days and to get a phone you need to wait for 5 to 6 years. Of course, if you know a Member of Parliament and get a recommendation from him the phone can come to you on the fast track, in one year. So, to make a call you go to a designated place (generally the GPO or Telephone Exchange of the city). There are rows of counters, and each counter has a smiling lady sitting there with a stack of one rupee and fifty paise coin in front of her. In front of those counters, there are rows of half cubicles which hide half of your body, but the voice is free to travel. You buy coins from the lady and wait for your turn. As soon as a cubical becomes empty the lady waves at you to go. You get in a cubicle. A box hung on the wall. The analog dialer makes an interesting sound as you rotate till the end of the metal stopper, the circular dialer goes back and then you dial the next number. With bated breath, you wait for suspense to beep converts into a shrill long ring, and then you frantically start pouring your coins in the slit of the phone and talk in a loud voice. The coins are either gobbled up by the metal box or it throws some of them down the small trey, also a part of the metal phone booth and you just talk. The hall is a collage of multiple voices and emotions. Happiness, sadness, exam results, fixing a marriage all creating different stories for the ladies at the counter to listen and be amused. The smiles come back as she hands over another stack of coins to the next customer and asks them to wait for their turn.

These ladies were called “Telephone Operators”, and this was a job.

Where have those jobs gone?

Who took away their jobs?

How did they survive after these jobs died?

How people survived the previous job losses & The Jobs that will evaporate soon

The answer to some of these questions is simple.

Technology took away their jobs. The new business models took away their jobs.

So, losing a job to technology or a new business model or new ways of thinking is not something new? No, it is not. It has been happening for ages.

For a long time, the only blame has been taken by “The computer”, but computers are just one of the byproducts of technological changes.

So, how did people survive once they lost their jobs due to the changes in technologies?

The answer is that every generation survived these changes by reskilling them, adapting to the new environment, and learning to excel in newer skills.

This is true that not all this learning was done willingly or through a structured process. The truth is that every generation has some who were quick to learn new skills and move on and some took it reluctantly and only because their survival hinges on it and then there were a few who refused to switch to new ways and captured themselves in a time box of irrelevance.

It is very clear to understand that those who are quick to adopt the changes, reskill themselves faster are the ones who take advantage of the changes and make themselves successful. They quickly grab the opportunity; they understand that a vacuum is not a threat, but an opportunity and they become leaders in the newly emerging fields.

Let us look at what are the jobs around us now and what new technologies are going to make them disappear very soon.

In the automobile sector, a monumental change is taking place right in front of us.

Fossil fuel-powered cars are going to be replaced with Electrical vehicles. Today the electrical vehicle occupies 2.6% of total cars globally and is increasing at the rate of 40% yearly. Imagine the millions of car mechanics all over the world who will stand to lose their jobs in the next ten years’ time if they do not skill themselves to service and repair the electrical cars. Just note the shift taking place from mechanical skills to Electrical skills.

The second most important development taking place in the automobile industry is “Self-Driven Cars”. This is no science fiction. The experiments are taking place in The Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, United States, Sweden, Finland, United Kingdom & Germany. These cars are using AI and ML-based logics, GPS guided travel and are expected to prevent accidents, fuel waste (in waiting or driving in crowded streets) and more importantly saving a huge amount of driving stress.

But at the same time, the jobs of drivers are at stake.

The printing and publishing industry is also vanishing very fast. E-books and audiobooks will replace printed newspapers and books very soon. The jobs of publishers and every single job attached to printing will vanish faster than we imagine.

In a country like India where the agriculture sector is heavily oversubscribed with human labor will start getting impacted soon. The government is opening up the farm sector to the private players which will bring in newer technologies to farming. The competition will increase farm productivity on one hand but throw a lot of extra labor deployed on farms away from farming. The farmers will have to look at reskilling themselves into something more relevant in the not-so-distant future.

In the last five years, the delivery business has increased multifold. The once upon a time Pizza Delivery guy was the only mascot of home delivery. Now home delivery is touching every aspect of life. The Covid-19 impact has mega-intensified it. From food, cosmetics, grocery, books, medicine, vegetables to clothes, shoes even jewelry is getting home delivered. Just look down from your balcony as you are home locked due to Covid-19 and watch hundreds of delivery boys hoovering in your society from the morning to the evening on the two-wheelers and heavy bags on their backs completing their deliveries.

Well with Drones taking over this job what jobs these delivery boys will do?

The travel agents who booked your holidays and tickets are a fading community. Airlines rather prefer the customers booking directly with them as against giving any commissions to an agent, same goes with hotels and we are all getting used to looking for greater deals and making our bookings.

The travel industry jobs in this segment will also vanish soon.

What are Future Tellers predicting?

Thomas Frey, a respected Futurist wrote “Every new technology also requires new skill sets for those working in those environments. Here are just a few of the skills that will be highly prized in the future”.

He listed 14 “Hot New Skills” required to transit to the future. His list is an interesting read. I am reproducing the top 5 of those 14 as listed by Thomas Frey.

  1. Transitionists – Those who can help make a transition.

  2. Dismantlers – Every industry will eventually end, and this requires talented people who know how to scale things back in an orderly fashion.

  3. Backlashers – Ever- new technology will have its detractors, and each backlash will require a response.

  4. Ethicists – There will be an ever-growing demand for people who can ask the tough questions and standards to apply moral decency to some increasingly complex situations.

  5. Philosophers – With companies in a constant battle over “my-brain-is-bigger-that-your-brain,” it becomes the overarching philosophy that wins the day.

In a thought-provoking article titled “162 Jobs of the Future”, Thomas Frey has dwelled in as many jobs requiring Hot New Skills. It is not surprising that these new jobs are coming from industries like:

  1. Personal Rapid Transit Systems (PRTs)

  2. Environment

  3. Drone Industry

  4. 3D Printing

  5. IoT

  6. Big Data

  7. Alternative Financial Systems

  8. Driverless Industry

  9. Senior Living

We must note that the skills required to do these jobs have the elements of Critical Thinking, Empathy, Emotional Intelligence, Visualization, Sensitivity, and a whole lot of Problem Solving and Decision Making.

source: medium.com

I hope those who say “Art is a subject meant for girls who simply have to get married and sit at home and Science is the subject boys should study to become successful” kind of regressive remarks are listening to the sounds of changes happening around us.

The future jobs will go to sensitive people, active listeners, who have patience, and can look at a problem objectively. They are going to be the masters of the new job market of the future irrespective of their genders.

The new-age jobs will require newer abilities and skills or change the perspective of old skills to succeed. This is summarized excellently by The World Economic Forum’s- Global Challenge Insight Report “The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

How will I write my own Transit Story?

Status quo, you know, is Latin for, ‘The mess we’re in.” — Ronald Reagan

The simplest answer to survive when change is happening is to change ourselves, maybe at the same pace, the change is taking place.

I spent three decades in a company that started its business by becoming a pioneer in teaching computers. Those were the times when computers were seen with huge suspicion and threat. There were instances where millions were spent to purchase computers by government departments, but they were just lying-in stores as nobody wanted them to be installed and red tape (another name of bureaucracy in those days in India) helped them to keep the enemies at bay.

Ask any government employee if they would like to work without a computer today in their office?

The transition now is not going to be a one-time act. The changes are going to be rapid and hence the adaptation to changes is also going to be a continuous process. The learning will no longer be confined with studies till Engineering or Business schools and occasional training conducted by the HR department of your office. It is ongoing and yes, the increased age span will also make you work longer and keep learning all through.

My favorite writer Yuval Noah Harari writes in his latest book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” while giving a brilliant strategy for the future.

source: Pinterest

“So, what should we be teaching? Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should switch to teaching ‘the four Cs’- critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasize general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. To keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products-you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again”.

(Chapter 19, titled “Education – Change is the only constant)