The figures are both frightening and nightmarish.
Will it not be a chilling story if someone quoting a research study findings tells you that in a decade's time, automation would throw 60 per cent of the RMG workers, 35 per cent of leather sector workers and substantial number of workers in tourism and furniture industries in Bangladesh out of their jobs?
The research findings were made known at a business luncheon meeting late last week on Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) preparation. The Bangladesh-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BMCCI) organised the meeting in Dhaka.
Since the details of the research study reportedly carried out by the a2i (access to information), a Bangladesh government initiative, are not available, it is really difficult to determine its credibility.
However, it is no denying that the use of artificial intelligence and robotics is in progress in many countries, primarily in the developed ones. If not AI, some industries in Bangladesh have already employed robotics albeit on a very limited scale.
To stay in business, the industrial sectors mentioned earlier might pick up the use of the latest technologies. In that case humans manning manufacturing and relevant other industries are bound to lose their jobs.
For a country like Bangladesh where, on an average, 2.2 million people are entering the job market as against the opening of an estimated 1.3 jobs every year, the curtailment of so many jobs because of automation would prove disastrous.
It is hard to imagine the impact on the overall situation if 60 per cent jobs are lost in the RMG industry, the lifeline of the country's economy, as predicted by the a2i study.
The RMG industry has been fetching the lion's share of the country's annual export earning, more than 83 per cent. More importantly, it is employing the largest number of people, especially women, in the manufacturing sector.
The RMG industry has played a very important role in financially empowering both rural and urban poor women. There is no denying that RMG workers are not getting enough to make a decent living. Yet without such support the country would have faced a deplorable labour market situation.
In the event of joblessness, if happens in line with the a2i study predictions, women RMG workers in particular would have to return to a life that they do not deserve. Most of them would have to work as domestic helps or take up other menial work for survival.
Loss of jobs due to industrial automation, no matter if it happens at a slow and gradual pace, is likely to lead to a chaotic situation in society. It might even destabilise social and political environment having serious implications on the economy.
But, for the sake of survival, many industries would have to go for automation. Only the educated people having the required skills would find jobs in automated industries that are minimally dependent on manual labourers.
The policymakers, thus, will have to assess afresh the job requirement of the industries to be gradually transformed into automated ones and help create skilled workforce to meet the requirement. More importantly, they will have to find ways and means to create employment opportunities for people to be forced out of their jobs.
It will be a stupendous task, no doubt. But the policymakers will have to accomplish it. Failure on their part would only invite trouble for the entire nation.
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