Why Professionals and Students Must Invest in Specialized Skills

The Second Machine Age and its Implications for Manufacturing and Services

Many Asian countries benefited from outsourcing of manufacturing and IT (Information Technology) services from the West. Prominent among these beneficiaries are China, which became the workshop of the world and India, which became the back office of the world.

Indeed, this wave of outsourcing resulted in the creation of millions of jobs in direct employment and countless others in indirect employment. Though outsourcing led to job losses in the West, the Asian countries were not complaining as they benefited from the transfer of wealth to them.

Of course, the western companies benefited in an equal measure as they saved on costs for low-end work, which left them free to focus on higher value adding work, and innovate to remain ahead of the technological curve.

However, a recent trend that has become noticeable in the West to a large extent and to some extent in the East is that the very process of performing work is changing because of automation in the form of robots and the dawn of the second machine age which means that even the work that used to be outsourced can be done in the West cheaper and with more quality.

The Third Wave of Automation

What we are referring to is the arrival of artificial intelligence and automated manufacturing systems like 3D Printing, Design Thinking, Driverless cars, and manufacturing processes that do not require any human intervention at all.

The emergence of these technologies threatens to take away the advantage enjoyed by China and India mainly because there is no need for manual labor even in IT where most processes can now be done through AI and robots.

Even in manufacturing, 3D printing, and design technologies are replacing the assembly line, which means that the work that was hitherto being sent to China and India can be done in the West at far lower cost and without the constraints of distance and geography.

In an ironical twist, the West which had focused on higher value adding work when it began the waves of outsourcing seems to have found the answer to the riddles of manufacturing and IT wherein it can replace most lower end and some middle end work with machines.

This is akin to a second industrial revolution wherein just as the first industrial revolution automated the basic tasks and the IT revolution automated the next level of basic tasks, we are witnessing the emergence of a third wave of automation which promises to be a game changer.

The Future of Jobs in the West

Whether you are a professional or a student, this emerging lateral power paradigm has implications as you no longer can rest content with IT or manufacturing knowledge and instead, have to have an exceptional resume to remain competitive. It is no longer the case that one can specialize in engineering or computer science or one can graduate as a management professional in the West because most of the jobs that were hitherto the preserve of these degrees would in the future be automated.

Indeed, like the two waves of automation, which resulted in the shop floor becoming redundant in the west and the lower, and the middle end of the services sector being replaced by innovative and cutting edge computers, the future would most probably be driven by large-scale replacement of these tiers by robots and processes like 3D printing.

The implications for the future of jobs in the west are many as professionals and graduates would have to acquire specialized skills just to remain in the race for employment. No, wonder that the recent trends indicate that those with masters’ degrees and PhD’s earn more than those with basic degrees in corporate America.

Where Does the East Stand ?

Having considered the implications for professionals in the west, we can now turn to what happens to jobs in the East. The situation is not so dire here as there are still many jobs that cannot be automated fully.

Having said that, it must be remembered that even in the services sector in the Asian countries, professionals, and students would have to quickly move up the specialization curve if they are to realize their dreams of making it to the top. This can be seen in the way most Asian IT companies talking about moving up the value chain instead of being content with maintenance and basic coding work.

While this article is not intended to be alarmist, it must still be said that the emergence of this wave of automation should be a wakeup call especially for those professionals starting their careers and more so, for the students who are entering universities for engineering and management. This is the clear implication of the trends that are shaping the future of jobs in the west and in the east.


Before concluding this article, it would be pertinent to point out that just as Silicon Valley is now a hotbed of innovation with the likes of Apple and Google rapidly stretching the boundaries of what is possible and making what was hitherto thought impossible into a reality, the tech clusters and the management centers in Asia can similarly have technology incubators and centers for managerial excellence.

In conclusion, as the future emerges with enough pointers to the world of tomorrow, there cannot be a better time to spruce up on one’s skills and invest in oneself so that it pays off in the future.

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