By Azeem Abu Bakar

In the upcoming election, one of the most heated topics will be youth unemployment. Many blame the government for this problem, while some say the economic slowdown is a factor. However, neither of these factors comes close to the impact caused by disruptive technology on traditional jobs.

In today’s age where technology is rapidly evolving and disrupting traditional industries, governments all over the world face challenges on youth unemployment, of up to 13.1% in 2017, according to the United Nations.

In Malaysia, youth unemployment is lower at 10.7% and, according to Bank Negara, partly due to an inadequate supply of industry-ready graduates. One major factor is that new technologies demand new types of skills and much less of the old ones. This is not a problem specific to Malaysia, but can be seen around the world.

There is only so much that governments around the world can do to change rigid education structures which have been embedded in society since the first industrial revolution in the 18th century. Youth need to take charge of their own future and move #ForwardTogether if we are to thrive today, tomorrow and beyond. If we leave it solely to the system to determine the future, we will fail to realise our potential and get left behind.

University qualifications alone may no longer suffice in the world today as this could become obsolete in a matter of years. A report in Forbes argued that artificial intelligence would take over jobs in finance, architecture, healthcare, teaching, journalism, law, and the insurance sectors in the next 10 to 15 years. Hence, youth today need to dynamically reinvent themselves by continuously acquiring new skills to adapt to the rapid changes in technology.

Fields such as big data, internet of things, nanotechnology, 3D printing, autonomous cars, quantum computing, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality are growing rapidly. They drive the sophistication of the sharing economy as exemplified by Grab and Airbnb, which disrupted the transportation and property sectors. Advanced robotics and artificial intelligence are displacing human labour in delivery services and warehouses like Amazon.

Media Prima recorded a staggering RM669.66 million loss in 2017, as the medium of content consumption shifts online. This shows how the internet and social media have disrupted traditional media in a big way. If this continues, the number of roles in traditional media will drop. Shopping malls and retail units are heading towards an oversupply as businesses utilise more e-commerce platforms to sell their products. With less need for physical establishments, retailers will hire fewer workers. All of these point to job losses in traditional, brick-and-mortar outfits.

However, with the fall in recruitment for traditional media, more roles are opening up in online portals. The boom in e-commerce allows companies access to global markets. In order to fulfil larger demand, they create more job openings to build more capacity. The retail industry has also become more accessible to budding young entrepreneurs as they no longer need to raise funds for a physical shop.

The youth need to move quickly to identify new opportunities, reinvent themselves by acquiring new skills, and step forward. There is no point blaming others or the government. Wake up! The phenomenon of disruption is happening globally, and traditional jobs are fast disappearing.

New industries are ending traditional employments but adding other, more sophisticated, ones. Only those who are quick enough to acquire new skills will ride the wave of technological advancement and benefit from it. Those who fail to do so will have a hard time finding employment.

In the upcoming election, candidates and political parties will raise the issue of unemployment and start pointing fingers. Youth need to believe – but not in a candidate, politician or party. They need to believe in themselves. In their own ability to rise to the challenges in the era of disruption.

The Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE) urges youth to move #ForwardTogether as we face the era of disruption, so no one gets left behind. At the end of the day, our survival depends on how well we work together to innovate, taking risks to venture into new territories, to motivate each other in trying out new things in this dynamically changing world.

Azeem Abu Bakar is secretary-general of the Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE).

Originally published on Free Malaysia Today on Sunday March 22, 2018.

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