WSJ recently published an article about many US factories has started to require a white-collar worker to perform a job that traditionally had been done by a blue-collar worker. Among the reason cited for such a trend is due to the level of automation that slowly has replaced the manual work when it comes to increasing the output of factory production. The increase in the use of automation warrants the needs to have people that are more adept toward operating machinery, thus the reason why college degree becoming a yardstick when it comes to hiring people to operate those machineries. This could be a very clear sign that we are truly moving towards the Industrial Revolution 4.0.
This could present a threat to those lower-skilled workers that may not have enough qualification to shift themselves to fit into the new job requirement. It is bad enough that they are being left behind due to preference to the blue-collar worker, the IR4.0 is predicted to make some of the job to be extinct, as they are being replaced by the robots. But is the concern warranted that it might cause a greater social issue in the next few years? The answer to this still can be yes. However, rather than facing the job extinction, McKinsey used the term displacement, whereby IR4.0 would create a lot more job opportunity to those that affected by the use of automation in the workplace. But this does not mean the lower-skill worker will be able to automatically transition to the newly created job. There has to be some upskilling to their skill, to familiarize them to the new job. McKinsey has come out to say they estimate around 75 to 375 million people will have to switch occupations and learn new skills by 2030.
This massive transition would require a collective effort by the government and the business to ensure the right policies are in place. There will be more engagement to ensure the right policy being implement, thus ensuring the optimal result that can balance the impact of IR4.0 to the general public. There could still be a possibility that some group of populations may not be able to undertake the transformation due to whatever reasons. Some countries have started to move toward offering Universal Basic Income (UBI) to its citizen that might have been impacted by the revolution. Finland, for example, has instituted that its citizen will receive $640 a month, with no string attached. The experiment is intended to assess how its citizen is responding to the changing nature of work and ― given its 8-per cent unemployment rate at the time ― how to get people back into the labour market.
It begs a question whether Malaysia is ready for this? Eventually, we have to work toward that, as currently, the rate of automation within our SME is still below than what the government is expecting. Despite various incentives by the government agencies to push for greater adoption of automation, the take-up rate is still quite low. Many still depended on manual labour to product manufacturing output. Unless the cost of technology is being lowered, SME will still stick to the manual labour.