The impending uncertainty in the future of work, heightened by geo-political tensions, economic instability, and climate change, is concerning. Coupled with the increasing adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, we face a scenario where even low-skilled jobs in fields like manufacturing, software development, and media are threatened by machine takeover. Stories of American copywriters shifting to alternative careers and experiments with AI-generated news anchors are already prevalent.
The advent of AI tools like ChatGPT and other generative AI models has brought about the concept of ‘prompt engineering.’ While these models still rely on human judgment to correct errors or ‘hallucinations’, the trend is moving towards more autonomous systems capable of resolving problems independently. Despite its sophisticated responses, ChatGPT still largely functions as a highly advanced search engine, which responds based on its training data.
The impending change will necessitate that we shift our focus to creating new knowledge, through innovative work or solving unprecedented problems. Essentially, the future calls for a more entrepreneurial approach to creating new services, products, intellectual properties, or startups that fulfill unmet market needs.
However, the opportunity for novel services is dwindling in the contracting economies of the developed world. In contrast, India, with its rapidly growing economy and massive population, presents considerable optimism. With half of its 1.4 billion population under the age of 29 and an increasing demand for new products and services, India represents a substantial market. Local production can offer a tenfold cost advantage over importing solutions, offering an enormous opportunity for startups addressing local problems.
Nevertheless, there is a considerable challenge in finding adequately trained human resources to build these new products and services. The current educational system focuses on rote learning and exam-centric education, perpetuating the myth that good grades guarantee a good job. The prevailing risk-averse societal attitude also deters entrepreneurial ventures. The modern job market demands not only state-of-the-art skills but also a host of other capabilities. Both school and higher education systems are currently struggling to equip young individuals with the skills and tools necessary to navigate modern life and its challenges.
Entrepreneurship demands key qualities like empathy and a drive to address societal issues. However, our education systems often fall short in cultivating these values, as well as fostering critical thinking abilities and problem-solving skills. Further, it doesn’t adequately equip students with practical knowledge on raising capital and harnessing cutting-edge technology.
Though top-tier institutions like the IITs, NITs, and certain overseas universities do offer these advantages, the vast majority of students lack access to these resources. Government efforts, like the National Education Policy 2020 in India, are steps towards reforming this education system. However, these initiatives impose significant demands on an education system unaccustomed to change and a workforce needing retraining to fit the new mold.
In response to these gaps, many young individuals are turning to online resources like Khan Academy and Coursera to supplement their education. While this has boosted the fortunes of numerous ed-tech companies and provides some learning opportunities, it’s insufficient. Students must take the initiative to acquire a broad set of skills, discover their passions, and define their career path, whether that leads to employment, further education, or launching a startup.
Competitions offer a valuable platform for students to develop and showcase these skills. In India, events like the Smart India Hackathon for small teams, Robocon for large teams, and the e-Yantra Robotics Competition from IIT Bombay provide students the opportunity to work on futuristic technologies. These competitions not only encourage the development of hard and soft skills but also often lead to excellent job placements, aspirations for higher education, and the inspiration to start a business.
In conclusion, the global community is in search of confident, empathetic young individuals with a curiosity to explore societal issues and the capacity to find solutions to these problems.