- Align education and training to tech advancement to survive
Though bordered by two giant neighbours, Nepal is, geographically, not a tiny nation. In fact, it is the 93rd largest country in the world spread across 147,516 square kilometres of mountains, hills and plains. Yet, Nepal’s population is below 30 million (three crores).
But it is highly disturbing that the country has failed to create employment and other work opportunities for the majority of its able-bodied male population. Though it is difficult to provide the exact number of Nepalis working abroad to keep families in proper shape back home, estimates suggest that 3.5-8 million countrymen are eking out a living in neighbouring India and around six million are working in West Asian countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc., and Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Remittances sent by these Nepali workers account for 30% of the country’s gross domestic product. This flow of funds from sons of the soil has kept the country, so to say, afloat and mitigated the poverty rate. The underprivileged and deprived class in the country is now able to create sustainable assets like permanent housing, giving a boost to the real estate industry. Children are being sent to better schools. Medical care is becoming affordable.
One wishes that this could continue but one foresees serious reservations on this score. The migration rush is yet another proof of the fact that Nepal, despite having been an independent country all through its history, is still not able to offer sustainable living to its populace. With most able-bodied males compelled to toil in tough and pitiable circumstances in alien climates and climes, the agricultural sector has been dealt a massive blow. A net exporter of farm produce till the 1990s, Nepal has to today import food to feed its people. Overdependence on our migrant population brings in its trail unexpected vagaries. The Covid 19 pandemic witnessed our people rushing back to the homeland in the toughest of conditions. It was a humanitarian crisis for our workers abroad and an economic disaster at home. According to an estimate by the International Labour Organisation, 1.6 to 2 million jobs were disrupted in Nepal’s wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, construction, transport, food services, real estate sectors to name just a few that were hurt the most.
The other concern about our hardworking migrant workers is very grave. It is no secret that most of our boys seeking work abroad are not equipped with any competitive skills. So they have to engage in utter manual labour or semi-skilled work like welding, basic carpentry, etc. What is their competitive advantage? The ability and willingness to work in most inhospitable and tiring conditions with no regulatory benefits like provident fund, medical care and liveable accommodation. And all this at lowly wages! It is a shame that our youth have to suffer this way to keep the home fires burning.
But will even this hellish avenue be available to Nepal’s young men as technology makes giant strides, and automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning hold the reins of human progress? Machines are advancing and pushing us out of many domains which were hitherto exclusive reserves of human beings.
Though the debate over machines and jobs has been raging forever, the fact is that humans can survive only if they upgrade themselves to keep pace with technology, particularly information technology and its rapidly emerging offshoots. There is no harm in seeking work abroad. That has been the way of international trade and travel for millennia. But why should we be driven to pick up the lowliest of jobs? Are we destined to be the coolies of the planet?
According to recent data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the earth’s population will, by the year 2050, reach around 9.8 billion with six billion people being of working age. Well over 70 million young people are already struggling to find decent jobs. It seems that the data does not include many who hold jobs but are actually under-employed. Either they do not have skills that the job market requires or their wages do not match their skills and qualifications.
One can say with a fair degree of conviction that the education system in underdeveloped countries, including Nepal, is hardly aligned with the needs of the world. Most degrees, diplomas and certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on. With this being the situation, it is obvious that growth of new technology only creates fear and apprehension among the youth. With some estimates suggesting that 80% of the jobs will get automated over the coming decades, job markets are obviously under real threat.
I am not a pessimist. There is certainly scope for the youth to bridge the gap between their current education and the challenges being posed by the advancement in technology. But in that scenario too, those who are already off the block will breast the tape first. Today’s competition demands that the youth, corporate world and, most importantly, the government change their outlook towards education and training.
Nepal needs to take on the new challenge without losing a minute.