MEF: Skill upgrade is critical

If machine learning automates away low-skilled tasks, as some predict, it might not make working-class people obsolete, but it could make their existence miserable nonetheless.

PETALING JAYA: Employees should always find ways to upgrade their skills for the future should their jobs be taken over by robotics and automation, says Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan.

He said it was critical for employees to be multi-skilled and be open to changes to help improve their productivity.

Commenting on the survey by YouGov Omnibus, Shamsuddin said automation, to a certain extent, had taken over some jobs in the country.

“In 2016 and 2017, the banking industry tapped on the financial technology platform and the industry lost about 20,000 jobs.

“Banks started closing down some branches and installed more ATMs and cash deposit machines. They also encouraged customers to use the machines and go online instead of over-the-counter transactions,” he said when contacted.

Then other industries, such as insurance companies, followed suit, he said.

The YouGov survey revealed that 29% of the 1,009 Malaysians surveyed believe that robots could replace them at work.

The study also found that seven in 10 (69%) surveyed think that robots and automation will lead to a loss of jobs overall in the wider economy.

Shamsuddin said technology had replaced some repetitive and administrative jobs.

However, he believes that not all is lost as there are possibilities for new jobs to be created, thanks to the new technologies.

He said the younger generation could also tap onto Internet-based platforms, which require a smaller capital to invest.

“So there will be more opportunities for people to become self-employed.

“However, they need to have protection. I believe the government needs to come up with some form of mechanism to protect them in terms of social security and retirement funds,” he said.

The government should also provide more quick programmes to certify skilled workers, said Shamsuddin.

When asked to comment on the survey’s findings that those earning less than RM4,000 a month believe they are more likely to be replaced by robots than those earning more than RM8,000 a month, Shamsuddin said this was because some jobs could not be done by machines.

“If higher executives say this, this is because there is some amount of decision and judgment to make, so that cannot be done by machines,” he said.

Higher Education Department director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir, however, said there is no way robots could ever replace human talent.

She said the ministry had prepared a “humanising of education” framework to ensure graduates had both technological and humanistic competencies.

“Robots don’t have a soul. Machines don’t have emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, creativity and communication skills.

“Industry 4.0 needs technological competency, but more important is the human element.

“However, students must learn to complement robots,” she said, adding that students could work with robots if they continuously reskill, upskill and relearn.

Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said robots and other intelligent systems were for repetitive, low-value work, especially in manufacturing.

“With technological advancements, these systems can perform such work more efficiently and reliably, respond faster, and provide decision-making insights.

“But, humans are still needed to understand requirements, design new and innovative products and services, and develop marketing strategies,” he said, adding that technology helped humans focus on these higher value tasks.

He advised students to develop broader skills beyond the chosen programmes.

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Malaysians fear robots will steal their jobs, says study


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