Academics in the London School of Economics claim that digital transformation in society and business, which involves an interface between technologies in the physical, digital and biological disciplines, has been felt by all our senses. Emerging technology such as artificial intelligence, Internet of things, robotics, automation, nanotechnology, materials science, quantum computing, energy storage and metaverse represent just the tip of this technology iceberg. Significant workplace changes and the potential to replace low and medium skilled jobs as a result of these developments are anticipated.
It is likely that all industries and most occupations will be transformed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Compounding these major technological shifts are political and economic uncertainties. Having said that, demographic and socio-cultural developments are taking shape in their own way. Thus, the question is how closely Bhutan and Bhutanese are following these developments and how prepared are we to transition to the areas.
Youthful labour markets in countries such as Indonesia and India, even Bhutan, are responding to it. Lately, the so-called online business, home-based marketing, and freelancing services are picking up in the country. There is no proper data to validate how well it is going, but it is worth sharing the new and timely innovations of The Care, Druk-Ride, Happy Delivery Services, Food on Wheels, Sibjam to name but a few. In addition, the Entrepreneurship Support Division, De-suung Skilling Programme, Skills Development Program etc. are catering to the very much-required skills training programmes. It has not only induced a sense of future of work concept but also created yet another avenue to the challenge of this review.
Now the question is, while we already have people entering this future of the work arena, how are we planning for the real future? Is our education system looking into this perspective? Is our private sector prepared to handle the digitised management and operate at their optimum? Is our public sector ready for digitisation? Are our media and service providers strong enough to handle the load of the change? And, most prominently, being an agrarian society, how prepared is our agriculture system, our farmers to leverage these technologies and digitisation?
Much has been learnt during the pandemic, where the noisy corners of your expensive apartment was set as an office, frustrated by the sluggish pace of the internet, several breakdowns of voices and cracking of video conferences. On the other hand, banks were closed and online payment picked up, heavy transaction issues and payment errors were noticed. Public fell prey to the poor financial management plan (self), which they survived pre-Covid experiences with wage work or hand-to-mouth earning trend. Our people are strong; frustrated they may be.
The concern is not about the empty pockets and grievances, it is about our preparedness; the case here is clear. Covid has been a blessing in disguise; it has shown the reality of how we exist. A majority of the Bhutanese in urban areas are living in hand-to-mouth situations. Income is swallowed in rent payments.
However, the blame does not fall on housing, minimum wages or employers alone. Are we doing enough for ourselves? Or are we okay with the minimum we are paid? Are we cutting our coats according to our clothes?
With the surge in prices of commodities and still the same earnings, we might need to rethink ourselves. And the best solution is to take advantage of the change we currently see. Work extra hours or do part-time work. That’s how the gig economy expands. Apart from the intrinsic aspects of a job impacting an individual, studies claim that money is one of the common reasons to opt for gig work. In a similar line of thought, supplementing an individual’s existing income also is another reason.
The choice is a challenge and we need to accept the reality and move on. If we are still with the old school of thought and cannot blend with the change, we are out of the competition!
Having said that, the government and policies have this choice; the choice to adopt relevant safety regulations to look at the protection of the workers in this space, safety at work, and safety in the digital platform.
As things are picking up globally, Bhutan should also start getting on its toes.
Phurba Sonam Waiba