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Technology and the ecosystem of employment

Published: 12th June 2013 10:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2013 10:50 AM   |  A+A-

Once upon a time, a technophobe was a person who refused to use advanced technology such as computers, either out of fear or a lack of knowledge about it. Nowadays however, the word has to be redefined to describe someone who feels uncomfortable using technology, because there aren’t many people who have the choice of surviving in the world without actually using any advanced technology at all. You are all well aware of the massive presence of technology in our daily lives, such as in communication, entertainment, transportation and healthcare. But have you ever stopped to think about the fact that almost all of us depend on technology for our livelihood?

Glancing through the ‘job vacancies’ section in any newspaper or website will tell you that computer literacy is a minimum qualification for most office jobs, even outside the IT sector. In many cases, it is taken for granted and not mentioned explicitly, but you are expected to be familiar with basic computer applications. It isn’t their primary purpose, but embedded systems and firmware manage to cleverly disguise computers as modern machinery to the untrained eye. In other words, you may be using computers at your job without actually realizing it. Several factories use digitally controlled machinery for manufacturing their products, and the workers are usually trained to use the technology. Even the government is moving towards e-governance and very few government staff will now be making a living through conventional methods of putting pen to paper. Of course, there are exceptions, but knowing your way around a computer certainly helps you to find a job in today’s economy much easier than if you are totally technology-illiterate.

Another way to look at it is that learning to use technology provides an opportunity for physically challenged individuals to make use of their intellect and other skills in a more efficient manner. Organizations like Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment (SPACE) aim to promote technology and computers with focus on employability. One of their projects, titled ‘Insight’, is especially interesting in this regard. Insight, which has been funded by the Kerala State IT Mission since 2007, aims to empower ‘differently abled’ individuals by teaching them basic computer skills such as word processing, spreadsheets and popular web based tools such as email, social networking, etc. The programme also offers participants the chance to get familiar with proprietary software packages which may otherwise be unaffordable to them for self-learning.

Arun Madhavan, of the Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment, who is the coordinator for Insight, points out that visually impaired trainees are able to study and do assignments using the audio books produced as part of the project. So far, over 1000 people have participated in the program, with some of them finding jobs in IT enabled industries like call centers. Several of them have come back to be trainers for new batches of the programme, thus multiplying the effect of the noble intent. Government call centers such as the Sutharya Keralam complaint registration centres are seen as good prospective employers for those who pass the course.

It may be generation-specific, but there are still people who refuse to use ATMs, let alone internet banking, preferring instead the personal interaction involved in a physical visit to the bank near them even for a minor transaction.

On the other hand, many people would prefer to do their banking or shopping from the comfort of their own computer or tablet, no matter how much money is involved, or how accessible the physical alternatives are. It is not always a matter of preference, but also a matter of how much time you have at your disposal for these tasks.

The sheer efficiency provided by technology has also thrown open job opportunities for those who are skilled in operating and utilizing technology as it is meant to be used. A simple example is the invention of motor vehicles. In the strictest sense, it may have displaced the jobs of rickshaw pullers, horse-cart drivers and palanquin bearers.

But it also created a whole new ecosystem employing drivers, mechanics, spare parts dealers, puncture repair workers, etc. That is exactly how computers and modern technology have changed the way our world works - by creating a whole ecosystem of employment. What we need to do today is to embrace that ecosystem and use it to create opportunities through learning.

(aravind.r@newindianexpress.com)



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