Government’s effort at creating new jobs for millions of unemployed youths is being threatened by arrival of robotic technology in key sectors that would have created these jobs.
The big issue is not whether the robots are coming, because they are. Banks in Nigeria are already firing cashiers as more ATMs pop up. In the food and beverage sector, as well as other manufacturing industries, more robots are being deployed for their precision and speed.
The question is, should Nigerian workers worry that available limited jobs will be taken by robots?
Already, millions of unemployed youths have moved to Nigeria’s urban centres, seeking work in factories, banks and the few manufacturing industries. And at a time, when government is serious about diversifying the economy to create new jobs, instead, everything these workers could have done, robots can do better and faster.
Industrial robots and artificial intelligence are increasingly threatening manufacturing in emerging markets. And sooner, they will arrive Nigeria.
There are fears that those jobs may already have been taken over by robots and other forms of technology. And it’s not just in factories, in service sectors, automation has created call-center jobs but it may also take them away, as the World Bank’s Digital Dividends study pointed out.
A new report by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned an automation revolution will leave 66 million people in 32 countries at risk of being replaced by machines in the coming years.
In 2016, The Citi Bank and the Oxford Martin School, a research and policy arm of the University of Oxford authored the study, which also states that 85 per cent of jobs in Ethiopia, 67 per cent in South Africa, 65 per cent in Nigeria and more than half of the jobs in Angola and Mauritius are at risk of being automated from a pure technological viewpoint, the highest proportion of any continent globally.
In Nigeria, the National Union of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Employees, NUFBTE, has raised the alarm that automated machines and robots are increasingly taking over the jobs of members across the country, worsening the employment crisis in the country. Machine and robots The union is concerned that if not checked, more Nigerians may be thrown into the unemployment market.
The union has already petitioned the Federal Government through the Minister of Labour and Employment over the matter. President of the union, Lateef Oyelekan, said the present drive by the multinationals operating in Nigeria to use robots instead of human beings, would soon boomerang as it would further increase the unemployment figure in the country.
He said: “Nigeria is not mature enough for automated machine or robots to be used in our local industry instead of people. Presently, we have the challenge of unemployment in our hands where half of the population of our youths are unemployed. We are insisting that it would further increase the unemployment problem in the country and more Nigerians will lose their jobs. This is because where 200 Nigerians are supposed to be working, with automated machine, we now have 30, and where 500 were working before, we have less than 50.”
Calling on the Federal Government to prevail on the companies already using robots to stop, he argued that “countries with employment problems in the world are not using robots. If a country like China that manufactures robots is not using them, India is not using robots, even in our continent here, Ghana and Kenya are not using robots, why should Nigeria allow it then?”
Oyelekan also said though the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that jobs Nigerians can do should not be given to expatriates, was commendable, he insisted that the government must urgently make a pronouncement on the robots issue.
“This is how Nigeria can develop. We commend Mr. President for that because in some companies, we have expatriates as line managers, sales managers, what does such a person know about our culture, our market and other socio-cultural values of our people?” he asked.
Speaking on the issue, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige said the government is already barnstorming on how to liaise to employers of labour to ensure that manual jobs meant for human are not taken by robots.
Ngige wo fielded questions from journalists on the concern raised by the workers said, government can only persuade employers.
He said, “We have job creation committee created in the office e of the Vp, created in the last two months .and this particular problem was looked into. You see, that is technology and technology is advancing. We are using mobile phones, doing whatsapp. But this is art of technology that is taking away jobs, manual jobs. Therefore, it is something you talk to employers with persuasion. So we are brainstorming on how we can approach the employers.
An Abuja based human resource manager, Okoye Samuel said, Nigeria should be prepared to address the challenges and other issues that will crop up when this revolution eventually hits our Clime instead of waiting to be caught unawares when it finally manifests.
He said, “it is a fact that we are currently having serious unemployment crisis on our hands and given the fact that it does not take too long for whatever goes on in these advanced countries to be replicated here in our clime, a serious question we should be looking at now is; what will this “take over” by Robots portend for our working and unemployed population?
“these Robots are already creating an unstoppable revolution that is changing the face of industrial processes for good.
“It is, therefore, of utmost importance for the Nigerian government to note this and come up with new industrial policies, plans and strategies to enable Nigeria key in and fit in when this revolution eventually hits our shores.”
Athough, analysts say Nigeria is not at immediate risk since we are still struggling to keep up with the rise of advanced technologies.
Experts say going by current trends, manual and repetitive jobs like those of cashiers and bookkeepers are some of the most easily automated jobs. On the other hand, jobs that require empathy, creativity, problem solving, social intelligence and negotiating skills are less likely to be automated.
Therefore, social workers, psychologists, nurses, designers, writers, engineers and those in managerial positions are considerably less at risk from automation.
Countering Stephen Hawking’s doomsday projections, economists have explained that automation will onl
In January, Amazon launched an AI-powered store, Amazon Go with no cashiers or registers. All customers have to do is download the Amazon Go app, walk into the store, pick up goods of their choice and walk out. Their Amazon account automatically gets charged for what they take.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP, Jide Ezekiel, another human resource manger said, “As technology trends evolve rapidly, only those who choose not to evolve with it would find themselves out of jobs. As robots and automation replace manual and repetitive jobs, there’ll be an increased demand for high-skilled workers including computer programmers, engineers, creative thinkers and problem solvers. In order to prepare workers for this transition, there would be a need for the government to invest in human capital.”
Across the world, we are currently experiencing the trend of automation in the way we live and work; from self-driving cars, virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, payment solutions, chatbots, AI-powered predictions like Google Maps, to smart email categorisation and a ton of others. The era of automation is inevitable, it is a progress and it has been often described as socially destructive.
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