Businesses in Pakistan may be put into three kind of boxes: the aging legacy types, corporates or family-owned SMEs, that have adopted some level of modern business practises; those that are still running under primitive business practises; and those few, albeit mostly tech oriented, that are at the cutting edge of modernity.
But except for some champions from the last category, none seem to be mainstreaming the subject of the future of work. It is therefore both strangely surprising and refreshing to note that Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP) organised a moot on this subject earlier this month.
Much has been written about the future of work in international publications. Summarising some of those, EFP's secretary general Fasihul Karim Siddiqi at the organisation's moot on human resources and industrial relations, pointed to increasing mechanisation and automation of labour, which in turn demands altogether new types of skills from employees.
Since most jobs requiring manual dexterity, repeated actions and so forth are expected to be taken by machines or algorithms, analytical and critical thinking will become as important as creative thinking while active learning is even more important to stay relevant in the job market.
These headwinds of automation, robotization and digitisation naturally warrant a change in HR and IR policies, which is perhaps why as much as 35 companies took active participation in EFP's moot, where industry experts also gave detailed presentations on innovative HR solutions and smart workplace.
But there is one thing that EFP's president Majyd Aziz said which is of particular interest. He pointed to the growing understanding that pretty soon 4th and 5th industrial revolution "will enable each consumer to produce, within a reasonable time, the goods they need using technologies such as additive manufacturing and the necessary programs, downloaded from the Internet."
This 'democratisation of production' will change the very fabric economic, social and political life, which demands tomes worth of debate and discussion. But suffice to say it may even force the role of EFP itself, and of many business chambers and associations. Research papers and debates that should, hopefully, follow EFP's initiative ought to shed light on the relevance or irrelevance or such bodies in an era when many goods can be produced at home or in corner shops.
Equally important is the need to train future generations in light of the requirements of future work. Granted that demanding a corresponding change in curriculum and pedagogy at school level may be too much to ask in a country that still hasn't fixed its ghost schools. But at least private sector universities in Pakistan should take initiatives in that direction and start training professionals to become well adjusted to the future of work, if not ideally become its drivers.
In a country where traits as basic as having a work ethic and self-discipline is rarer than rare earth metals, ideas of entrepreneurship, self-employment, start-up, and production by consumers for consumers seem to be farfetched and too idealistic to some. But twenty years ago, smartphone and mobile data was farfetched; now people in far-flung areas of Pakistan rely on it, while urban dwellers can't imagine a life without it, let alone live it. Change happens! (Read also BR Research's 'Is the future colonised?, March 21, 2019)