Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo is warning that some careers will soon become obsolete and computers and other forms of technology will replace tens of millions of jobs performed by people, and Barbados must be ready when this happens.
The minister told the inaugural Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados (ICAB) Student Conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre this week it was for this reason that Barbadians should focus on more than just academic qualifications, but should also concentrate of developing skills that would make them stand out among their international peers.
The minister said it was difficult to predict how soon some jobs would disappear. However, she said international research has suggested that up to 30 per cent of the work done by people could soon be automated, with workers such as office clerks, truck drivers, factory workers and accountants likely to be among the first to be affected.
“They [researchers] suggest that 45 per cent of work activities and about US$2 trillion in wages could be lost because of automation,” she said, without quoting the source of any of the studies.
One such study, she said, had also found that 50 per cent of jobs in manufacturing, 73 per cent in food service and accommodation and 53 per cent in retailing could be automated soon, “and if computer can understand speech about 66 per cent [of jobs] in finance and insurance would go”.
“The first jobs they say would be affected would be middle skills like bookkeepers, clerks and assembly line workers,” she told the Barbados at 50 – Reaching Beyond This Horizon accountants’ week event, at which ICAB student members engaged in discussions on a variety of topics, ranging from cyber fraud to how to achieve a balance between work and their private lives.
Encouraging participants to engage in life-long learning, Byer-Suckoo said the concern about machines taking over some jobs was nothing new.
It was for this reason, she said, her ministry was in the process of developing modern employment and career counselling services that are relevant to both employers and jobseekers; and was training staff to deliver quality employment guidance and counselling services, while ensuring the necessary technological resources were up to date.
The minister added that Government was moving
ahead with plans for more virtual meetings among the ministries and departments in order to save time and
help cut costs, as well as establishing a knowledge management system for the storage and easy retrieval of information.
Byer-Suckoo added that her ministry was engaging stakeholders to ensure Barbadians were prepared to deal with the changes that are coming.
“There is a requirement of soft skills, people skills, leadership ability, time management skills, discipline, self-motivation and all those kinds of things the employers are looking for and we as providers of labour have to ensure that workers and potential workers have these along with their academic or technical skills,” she said.