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In a few years, ICT will render workers, workplace obsolete

Published:Sunday | December 4, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Rapid advancement in technology will, within a couple of years, eliminate the need for some workers and render the contemporary workplace obsolete, according to Professor Anthony Clayton of the Institute of Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies.

As such, Jamaica should focus its resources on developing the infrastructure of such sectors as information technology where opportunities are most likely to be available.

"We have had billions in financial support from the European Union and most went into sugar and banana, millions poured into industries that are not competitive," said Clayton, addressing a labour market forum organised by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in collaboration with the Labour Market Information Technical Advisory Committee in New Kingston last Thursday.

"We cannot produce sugar on a small island and compete with a country such as Brazil," Clayton said.

"If we had taken that money, instead of putting it into dying industries that never had a chance and invested it in information technology infrastructure, we would have been different," he said.

Clayton asserted that information technology would provide the main skills that would be required in future, and advancements in technology would also make several jobs become obsolete.

Lawyers, for example, may no longer be needed with the im-plementation of an e-discovery software that could find all relevant documents for about five per cent the cost at which those pro-fessionals did it, Clayton said.

"Software can do semantic analysis, determines relevance and precedents," he said. "Inferential software traces conversations across emails, messages, texts, calls, documents, identify su-spicious content or patterns of behaviour," he explained to an audience of students and young professionals at the PIOJ Don Mills Training Room.

Clayton says software is also now available that can check titles, permit secure transfer and verify payment - replacing lawyers who do conveyancing such as transferring houses, shares and assets between clients.

Jobs likely to become outdated

Among the other jobs he mentioned that are likely to become outdated are risk managers and sales people.

"The workplace as we know it will disappear, it's no longer going to be physical," said Clayton.

"The new work environment will be high stress, high speed, high flexibility and operate from anywhere," he explained.

"Firms that allow employees to determine work time and place will find that productivity goes up by 40 per cent," the professor suggested.

He pointed out that secretaries and accountants would be replaced by software, receptionists would be replaced by virtual registration, couriers replaced by better e-document security, and government bureaucrats replaced by online systems.

Jobs such as realtors, brokers, travel agents which depend on information asymmetries would all be replaced by software, he said.

Professor Clayton said the skills in demand would span areas such as social networking, creative, technical, logistic and entre-preneurial skills.

"What we will want are people who can manage customers, fans, digital communities, moderate online discussions, people who gather information, detect trends, are trusted sources, influence networks, team-builders, managers and leaders," he said.

So designers, technicians, engineers, scientists, policy analysts and persons with high IT intelligence will remain relevant.

In light of that, Professor Clayton said that if Jamaica was to regain the competitiveness it lost, re-sources needed to be focused on those areas.

"Over the last four decades, other countries have transformed their productive potential, economic growth rates and development prospects, but Jamaica has been left further behind," he said.

"The ability to drive, anticipate or respond positively to change is therefore critical," he added.

sabrina.gordon@gleanerjm.com