Who doesn’t know the saying “Good things come to those who wait”? Often, our loved ones comfort our sadness through the show of those helping words. As comforting as that might sound, the world spins fast and not just in the literal sense. The place we are all forced to live together is not the same as it was when my grandparents were still alive and won’t be the same by the time I have my grandchildren – or even my children.
Taking myself down the memory lane of elementary school, I remember learning the history of when Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch essentially because we had the misfortune of having so many spices and little means to fight those who wished to acquire them. The spices such as nutmegs that were abundant in Banda island were seen as a luxury item worth long trips and brutal fights. The British and the Dutch fought over the land until the British reluctantly swapped the island for a spice-less land in North America; a land that we now know as Manhattan.
The fighting doesn’t make sense now, of course, seeing that nutmeg is easy to find everywhere and Manhattan is the backbone of the world’s economy while the Banda Islands remain secluded.
The world no longer values spices such as nutmeg as they once were. Similarly, manufacturing and coal jobs in the US, despite promises made by President Donald Trump, are no longer valued as they once were.
Last year, McKinsey Digital released a report covering the labour force in 46 countries which found a third of tasks involved in 60 percent of occupations could be automated with today’s technology.
Work which is routine, from packaging and loading of materials to equipment maintenance, is easier to be replaced by robots.
In fact, a factory in Dongguan City, south China, has replaced 90 percent of its human labour with machines and as a result, productivity has increased 250 percent while Amazon launched its delivery drones which promise to provide faster and safer delivery in the UK. As for mining, I don’t see how the industry can maintain its current status for much longer given that natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than coal for power generation.
The political upheaval in the US caused by the decreasing number of jobs available in the mining and manufacturing industry might soon be something Indonesians would face. You can only lie for so long until reality kicks in. These jobs are disappearing and are never coming back – no matter how hard anyone kicks and screams. Many economists have stated that thanks to these innovations, the world would be shaken harder than during the industrialization era.
The futuristic-looking reality we often watched with awe growing up will soon knock on everyone’s doors.
I am scared that my skills will soon be futile but not as much as I am afraid vis-à-vis people’s frustrations having their old jobs no longer available. We’ve all witnessed how some taxi and ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers violently respond to having their income threatened by new competition from technology-based public transportations such as Uber and GOJEK.
I think having too many Indonesians work in an unskilled type of work would not only be a drive of little economic growth but would soon be the cause of a potential havoc all around the country. Being the fourth-most populated country and facing wide income inequality I don’t think is doing us any favours either.
Canada and Finland have started pilot studies for universal basic income (UBI) as their way to deal with the poorer populations. Though handout money is often frowned upon and risky for the worrying level of corruption in Indonesia, this could be a way to help manage the effects of new innovations. Or maybe the government could even tax the robots just like they do to human labourers.
If not, lessening the skill gap should become a priority by encouraging more studies on creativity and human emotions as those are things that are harder to be automated.
From the more than 16,000 islands scattered throughout the Indonesian archipelago region, there is immense creativity fueled by rich traditions and cultures that should be cultivated, as well as profited from in the form of clothing, food, art pieces or performances.
The World Bank has found that Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) employ 89 percent of the private sector’s workforce and contribute 57 percent to the country’s gross domestic product but often face a wall when they need a loan. If only the government would act more ambitiously in catering and investing in people in this industry, including those in a more isolated area, then maybe fewer Indonesians would have to rely for their livelihood on factory work such as in a Nike shoe factory that could very well be depleted in a not so distant future.
Ironic or not, looking to utilize new innovations to solve potential issues at the root could also be an answer. Financial technology (FinTech) affords more inclusivity in the economy as it has the tools to reduce the long – and expensive – intermediation functions that are now played by big banks. No longer would we need to build a bank to offer financial help – smartphone and cellular networks will be the only two essential things to do so.
But all in all, and regardless of which direction our government decides to take for this coming wave of new innovations and technologies, everyone should start getting used to change; be it in lifestyle, skills or work. Making changes, however big or small, is the only way for us Indonesians to stay relevant and not be held back just like what has happened in the Banda Islands today.