Some local communities are effectively learning how to ride the technology wave. In this article Commissioner Biju Nair shares his insights gleaned from creating technology jobs outside of the usual high-tech centers.
THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION CAN HAPPEN EVERYWHERE
If you want to open a high-tech operation, you better go to a high-tech area. Silicon Valley; Bangalore, India; Shanghai, China; Dublin, Ireland. These all conjure up visions of high-tech operations, well trained work forces, and cutting-edge technology. However, are we limited to only these areas? Why can’t a high-tech operation flourish in an area not normally considered high-tech? In fact, I believe the very technologies that these high-tech hotbeds are famous for are exactly what can enable high-tech operations in other locations.
A high quality, technically capable workforce is perhaps the first ingredient of a successful high-tech operation, and a look at the four areas mentioned in the opening paragraph certainly demonstrates that it isn’t nationality that determines high-tech ability. All cultures and all nationalities have technical ability – it just needs to be encouraged, nurtured, and rewarded. It may require government subsidies for low income students to be given the opportunity to pursue technical careers, but with technology holding the key to the future, why wouldn’t a government be incented to push technology education? That however, may be a longer term look at the problem. How can an area support high-tech operations today? The answer lies in the communications infrastructure and effective and creative use of emerging technologies. The Internet and its related communications technologies have effectively removed the physical limitations of having an entire workforce in one geographical area. If help center calls can be fielded by experts half a world away, why can’t the same principle be used in support of high-tech operations? The technical resources required can be “virtually” brought together anywhere in the world. There are multiple examples of use of new technology, software and analytics to leverage the balance between skills, costs and availability. Large companies like Boeing have started to use Virtual Reality/ Augmented Reality for training, education, and even to remotely troubleshoot engines. A lower skilled technician on site can don a pair of VR googles, and a higher skilled engineer may look at that image elsewhere in the world and provide expert help to the lower skilled technician. Similarly connected sensors embedded into critical equipment continuously gather data about its performance and can be remotely monitored from anywhere in the world.
“…the very technologies that these high-tech hotbeds are famous for are exactly what can enable high-tech operations in other locations.”
High-tech operations that produce tangible products also require a workforce to produce the product. More and more these workforces are industrial robots, but someone needs to maintain the robots, and there still are specific jobs that robots cannot do as well as humans. Geographical areas that currently or even formerly supported manufacturing likely have the labor force to support this, or can with minimal training. Having a workforce with these skills makes that areas attractive to high-tech operations that need those hands-on skills. Furthermore, the best examples of automation have come from areas where the automation was implemented with significant input from the expertise of the workforce that used to do the job manually. Fighting automation and robotics is like fighting gravity. Instead, our industries must embrace it and find effective ways to re-purpose the human capital and leverage their expertise as a part of those activities.
Governments have a hand in fostering high-tech operations as well. Tax credits for new businesses, government sponsored training and re-training programs for new and existing workers, and demonstrating a willingness to partner with private enterprise can have a great impact on where new ventures chose to open their operations. New ventures will generate tax income for an area, but more importantly, will provide new jobs and skills training for area’s residents, who will in turn pay taxes.
We tend to think of new technologies as obsoleting old technologies and the workers who were expert in those old technologies. We often hear how the automobile put the buggy whip makers out of business, but what if the automobile industry had turned to those buggy whip makers for their leather working skills? The first model T’s might have come out with fine leather interiors had the auto industry retrained and employed the buggy whip makers. Old technologies do become obsolete, but the skills that they required can, with the right training and re-application, become useful for newer technologies.
Recycling and sustainable development are very popular concepts today. In addition to recycling our electronics, metal, and petroleum resources, let us dedicate ourselves to repurposing – finding new and useful applications – our human resources. Creating high-tech jobs in traditionally non-high-tech areas will not only make use of the skills of these people, but will also make them a part of the high-tech future that most assuredly is coming. It makes good business sense – and it’s the right thing to do.