4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the job market of Bangladesh.

Feb 14, 2022 |
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What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Is a new revolution really coming already? How is it going to change the industry as we know it this time?

Whenever we hear about the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR or Industry 4.0 (yes, it has a lot of names), we tend to have many questions! In this article, we will answer them. And we will discuss how much this new revolution is going to affect the job industry of Bangladesh. So, buckle up!

First of all, let’s get the nitty gritty out of the way.

From the beginning of mankind, we have been curious creatures. Humans have dipped into research and created innovations that revolutionized their lives entirely. The first was when the steam engine emerged between 1760 and 1820, then the second came as a technological revolution from 1871 to 1914 and brought railroads and telegraph networks with it. The third industrial revolution is the latest man has seen and it is the digital revolution in the late 20th century. It was triggered by the innovation of Z1 Computers and Boolean Logic. And now, in the 21st century, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is taking a peek at us.

Coined by the World Economic Forum Founder Klaus Schwab, the term Industry 4.0 conceptualizes rapid changes to technology, industries, societal patterns and processes in the 21st century due to increasing connectivity and automation. In his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab defined it saying, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution creates a world in which virtual and physical systems of manufacturing cooperate with each other in a flexible way at the global level.” And it is happening rapidly. It has been observed that the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. Compared to the linear pace of the previous Industrial Revolutions, the Fourth is evolving rather exponentially.

Technologies in 4IR

Smart factories and online production management made their appearance in around 2014 and industry took a turn. Experts have agreed that this turn or revolution has the speed, scope and unprecedented impact that mankind has never experienced before. What are the technologies driving this unprecedented revolution? Let’s list.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is at the core of this revolution. It is one of the key technologies impacting the transformation of society, the labor market and the economy.

Internet of Things

IoT establishes a connection between physical and digital worlds. It has impacted numerous sectors already and more and more devices are becoming smart day by day.

Cobots

Cobots are robots designed to interact with humans in collaborative environments. They not only optimize production but also save humans from doing monotonous or dangerous tasks.

Anyone else getting flashbacks of Muhammad Jaffar Iqbal’s science fiction books now? Just me? Okay!

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

AR and VR uses computer science to create a relation between the real world and the digital world. It generates an immersive experience for users and consumers.

Big data

Big data enables businesses to manage and interpret massive data with ease. It enables businesses to effectively devise business strategies and make decisions.

3D and 4D printing

Prototypes can be developed and products can be created in a much quicker, affordable and accurate way using 3D and 4D printing.
Bangladesh has also started adapting these technologies to drive into Industry 4.0. We now have 5G internet connectivity in our phones. Another submarine cable is coming next year. And 39 high tech parks have been established in the country. But the question is – are we doing enough to train our workforce in 4IR skills? How will Bangladesh deal with the job crisis likely to strike by the upcoming revolutionary automation?

Position of Bangladesh in 4IR

Bangladesh has largely advanced in the technological front during the last decade and yet we are miles away from the 4IR world. While a part of the world is building Metaverse and another part has turned their government 100% paperless (which is Dubai), even the trade ecosystem of Bangladesh is not fully digitalised. The government has been trying to implement paperless systems for cross-border trades, but we are still far away from making that a reality.
Automation technologies such as AI, 3D printing, AR or VR – none of that have been largely implemented in garment factories of the country. Which is not ideal to stay competitive in the global market, because a garment industry running with the use of these technologies will yield a much higher productivity and close to zero wastage. Another area Bangladesh is not at all prepared for this is the education sector. The current curricula in schools and colleges neither teach the soft skills needed for 4IR nor many of the 4IR technologies are taught about in various computer science courses of different universities. The education system needs an overhaul to be in sync with the new revolution.
It is not all thorns though, there are some roses too. Bangladesh has progressed a lot in the digital front including the recent start of blockchain-based supply chain finance. 20000 MT of fuel oil was exported to Singapore using this process and the LC-processing time was reduced from 5-10 days to only 24 hours thanks to the amazing technology.

It is time Bangladesh built policies and took steps to move towards 4IR. And it is not just a matter of buying smart machines and plopping them inside factories. A lot of thinking and policy-making has to go behind it. The government needs to create policies about how to handle the potential unemployment problem. For instance, an automation policy that prevents factory owners from replacing the whole workforce with automation at once can be issued.

Employment Patterns in 4IR

The entire system is transforming radically and labor patterns are changing everywhere in the world. In fact, 50% of the US jobs are predicted to be substituted by automation and computing. Does that mean that 50% of workers will be unemployed and workless? Can we keep the unemployment problem at bay and create employment opportunities for this unfortunate half of the workforce?

History says we can. As technological innovations have always created more jobs than they have made invalid. John Maynard Keynes coined the term ‘technological unemployment’ that is caused by the application of a new technology as it destructs some jobs in the short run. But as the innovation enhances productivity and increases wealth resulting in increased demand for products and services, more jobs are created in the long run. The total outcome of this creation and destruction depends on how the workforce goes through the transition. And how the transition goes is highly dependent on government policies and how well the skill upgrade of human resources is executed.

Bad news for us is the speed at which the world is moving towards Industry 4.0. It is not only difficult to keep up with but also to predict where the job market is going. The nature of jobs in demand is likely to change entirely and many skills will become invalid, many new skills will need to be learnt. Automation has already replaced some mundane jobs that involve repetitive tasks, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because it frees up the workforce from redundancy and enables them to focus on skill development. Thereby developing a highly skilled and more productive workforce. And as we progress into Industry 4.0, it is expected that high-income cognitive jobs and low-income manual jobs will increase in demand.

The Garment Industry of Bangladesh in 4IR

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is creating an unignorable problem for the garment industry of our country.

The garment industry has been the largest source of export earnings for Bangladesh for a long time. But recently, Vietnam has taken over her second-place on the garment exporters list in 2020. Even though Bangladesh has been growing at an average rate of 7% in the past decade, our position is now threatened thanks to the 2020 Preferential Trade Agreement of Vietnam with the European Union (EU). And the country has been outperforming Bangladesh in exporting to the United States for over 10 years already. This is a massive threat to our garment industry and our economy largely relies on the income from exporting garments.

Experts say a significant reason for it is that Vietnam has been quick to adopt 4IR technologies in their RMG industry whereas Bangladesh has not. Industry 4.0 is changing the traditional operation in garments through automation, AI, 3D Printing, Robotics, AR and many more new and dynamic technological changes. And if Bangladesh’s garment industry can not adopt these technologies as soon as possible, we are going to fall behind. Which – Bangladesh can not afford.

The most contributing reason behind Bangladesh’s growth in the garment industry was the low price of it, mostly thanks to how cheap labor is in Bangladesh. And there is also enough availability of a skilled workforce because of the textile universities.

But the use of automation in clothing industries worldwide has increased productivity to a level where the low-cost model is not efficient anymore. Hence, the downward movement of Bangladesh in global garment export.

But introducing automation in the garment industry of Bangladesh means job loss for many garment workers which is a big concern regarding 4IR. A study by a2i says that 60% of garment workers may lose their jobs by 2030. To remedy this problem, it is necessary to invest in the training of unskilled labor forces and turn them into semi-skilled or fully skilled workforce while introducing automation to the manufacturing system. This will not only increase productivity but also develop a more valuable workforce.

Skill Development and Learning in 4IR

Demographically, Bangladesh is mostly youth-based. More than 30% of its population is currently under the age of 15. This age-group must be developed with the right skill set for Industry 4.0. Problem solving, interpersonal skills, creative thinking, adaptability – these are going to be the top in-demand skills in this revolutionary age. And these are the skills we are not taught in school. The current curricula or classroom teaching will make it incredibly difficult for education specialists to develop these skills.

In simple words, our current education system needs an overhaul to accommodate 4IR skills. More focus needs to be placed on Technical and Vocational Education and Training. This can become a useful and demanding line of education for the workforce in near future as it’s proven to be in other countries. Switzerland has a 70% rate of secondary school students taking part in vocational training and the country has recently been acknowledged by the World Economic Forum to have the most highly skilled workers in the world.

But in line with that we also need to train the current workforce on 4IR skills and technologies in order to upskill them and enable them to keep working in Industry 4.0. Along with upskilling, reskilling also demands thoughts in. Many workers will not be able to be upskilled and in those cases reskilling and changing professions will have to be done. For example, nursing training can be given to unemployed garment workers to change their profession.

These policies will help remedy the unemployment problem, make the demography more employable and they’ll make the transition into 4IR easier for Bangladesh.

The bottom line is that it is time we made the leap. To keep up with the rapid revolution of automation and computing everywhere in the world, Bangladesh also needs to be dynamic. It is time to invest in new technologies for industrial growth in all sectors and in the skill development of the workforce with equal importance. Bangladesh can one day take a lead in world economics and societal growth if we have necessary policies in place and work together to execute them effectively.

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