Robots are not out for your job (yet), World Bank says

Increased automation will lead to creation of new jobs and eliminate low-skilled opportunities in the marketplace

A visitor takes pictures of Kawasaki's life-size humanoid robot at the World Robot Summit in Tokyo on October 18, 2018. Forget the flashy humanoids with their gymnastics skills: at the World Robot Summit in Tokyo, the focus was on down-to-earth robots that can deliver post, do the shopping and build a house. / AFP / Behrouz MEHRI
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Increased automation in the workplace is unlikely to result in redundancy, with the uptake in technology likely to result in new job opportunities, the World Bank said in a new report, striking an upbeat tone in contrast with the common concern that robots are coming for the workplace.

"We know that robots are taking over thousands of routine tasks and will eliminate many low-skill jobs in advanced economies and developing countries,” said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group.

"At the same time, technology is creating opportunities, paving the way for new and altered jobs, increasing productivity, and improving the delivery of public services,” he added.

The World Bank predicts that workers are more likely to have many jobs over the course of their careers in the future, in part because of the gig economy, rather than hold down the same job at the same company for decades.

This new dynamic of changing work means workers should have a broad base of skills. Rather than gaining mastery over low-skill tasks that can be replaced by technology, employers will increasingly be looking to hire people with advanced cognitive skills, like complex problem-solving, teamwork, reasoning and communication talents, The Changing Nature of Work report said.

As workforces make the shift, governments should guarantee a universal minimum level of social protection, the World Bank added.

Countries in the Middle East have begun to increasingly automate several industries, particularly regional heavyweights such as energy, which have become more digitalised. The UAE for instance, has a minister for artificial intelligence and state energy firms such as Abu Dhabi National Oil Company have begun to deploy AI and big data in exploring for hydrocarbon resources more efficiently.

Re-skill opportunities - or programmes to gain new training - should be able to help labour adapt to changing marketplace realities in the region, according to the report.


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"High-skill university graduates currently make up almost 30 per cent of the unemployed pool of labor in the Middle East and North Africa,” it said.

"Better adult learning opportunities enable those who have left school to re-skill according to changing labour market demands,” it added.

While the report lauded the region’s high mobile penetration - 120 subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants, making it one of the highest levels in the world - it noted the lack of development of broadband services as holding back the growth of digital finance.

“[The Middle East and North Africa] has fewer than 10 broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, and bandwidth per subscriber is limited. In the end, this means that although the citizens of these countries are active on social media, digital finance has barely any presence,” the report noted.

Spending on energy subsidies, while being phased out in the Middle East and North Africa, still remains high when compared with global averages, the report cautioned.

"Average spending on energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa region is three times higher than on social assistance. Nevertheless, the removal of energy subsidies must undergo a poverty impact analysis, especially for the fuel sources used most intensively by poor households, such as kerosene," it said.