By Ashwajit Singh
The nationwide lockdown for three weeks announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the COVID-19 spread was, as expected, extended beyond April 14 for another few weeks. The question then becomes what will happen after that. How will the country continue to control the pandemic? The developments are being keenly watched, and data is being monitored. Every effort—from packages to boost the economy and focus on healthcare to applause for frontline workers and appeals on humane grounds—to sustain the economy through the crisis and to revive it afterwards is being carried out.
Work and life will never be the same again. The world will see major social, behavioural, and social changes. Amidst all this, what has emerged is that technology will play a key role at every level, both in the public and private sector. Firms that provide technology-based solutions in various fields, like healthcare, urban reforms, climate change, education, and many others, can become crucial problem-solvers during this time of crisis.
The World Economic Forum report had indicated that the jobs of the future are set to grow by 51% in the horizon up to 2020, and had projected 6.1 million job opportunities globally, mainly in the adoption of new technologies—giving rise to greater demand for green economy jobs, and roles at the forefront of the data-and-AI economy. While these numbers would no longer hold good following COVID-19, technological progress is essential to economic growth, and can accelerate the efforts toward economic revival. Investments into technology, at this point of time and even after, can save the time it takes to produce a good or deliver a service, contribute to the overall profits of a business, increase business output rate efficiency, and increase division of labour and job specialisation.
Post the Coronavirus crisis, the world would see increased use of virtual technology for meetings, substantial investment in science and medicine, use of AI and cloud-based technology, increase in e-learning, wide use of telemedicine, and reduction in overheads, including lower rents and travel costs. Work from home and virtual meetings will be part of routine work culture. Governments are going to be bigger, stronger, and hopefully more efficient, with a rise in nationalism and self-dependency. Even the government would need to increase its use of technology and automation in all areas, including management of its social sector programmes across health, education, public distribution, employment guarantee, etc, besides its regular operations. There will be a reduction in field visits, and human interaction.
It is here that a collaborative action by industry and other stakeholders to develop future-proof workforce strategies, and support at-risk workers with reskilling and upskilling will play a crucial role. Not only will it have the potential to facilitate digital transformation but can also limit job losses in the wake of the current recession. A preliminary assessment International Labour Organization report, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts and responses mentions that nearly 25 million jobs could be lost due to the Coronavirus crisis. If COVID-19 persists further, the numbers would be much higher, as is already being seen in the US.
Hence, at a time like this, all key stakeholders should be putting their heads together to mitigate the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and suggest implementable strategies. Technology will be at the core of all these strategies, especially in a sector like healthcare.
The author is Managing Director, IPE Global Views are personal