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A man is trying glasses with hologram technology at a research centre called ARENA2036 in Stuttgart, Germany. DAAD-Markus Guhl

The future of work is here. Indonesia is optimistic but still clueless

Technology is reshaping our lives in ways that we have never imagined before.

It is changing our habits, our interactions and the way we do things at home and work.

With technology, the way we work is changing fast.

Digitisation and automation under the wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a profound impact on global work spheres.

The latest report from McKinsey Global Institute predicts between 400 million and 800 million people may lose their jobs by 2030 as robots, and artificial intelligence (AI) will replace them.

To anticipate that, many countries are gearing up to face these inevitable challenges.

Some are optimistic, but many are cautious.

Between these two is Indonesia, the third largest economy in Asia after China and India. Even though Indonesia has issued a roadmap for its industry to embrace digital technology, some experts have doubted whether it is the one that the country needs.

Read more: 'Making Indonesia 4.0' and supporting digital startups is good, but what about the small low-tech entrepreneurs?

The article wants to point out what is missing in Indonesia’s policy-making and what can it learn from other countries to better prepare its workforce for the future.

Indonesia’s situation

Indonesia’s Industry Ministry issued last year a strategic roadmap called “Making Indonesia 4.0” to help the country face challenges brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Industrial Minister Airlangga Hartarto said the roadmap was designed to also boost the country’s competitiveness through the use of technology.

Indonesia’s competitiveness index ranking rose two spots to 45 in 2018 from 47 in 2017.

Experts have criticised the roadmap for focusing only on the big players. The roadmap prioritises big industry like automotive, textile, electronics and chemicals industry to create 10 million new jobs by 2030. But, the roadmap, experts believe, seems to ignore the huge contribution of small players to Indonesia’s economy.

In 2013, Indonesian medium and large firms - companies with a yearly turnover of more than Rp2.5 billion (around US$176,000) – contributed Rp2,220 trillion to the GDP. Meanwhile, micro-enterprises with an annual turnover of less than Rp300 million and small firms with annual turnover between Rp300 million and 2.5 billion contributed Rp3,755 trillion and Rp3,495 trillion to the GDP, respectively.

Researcher Hizkia Yosias Polimpung said that the weakness of “Making Indonesia 4.0” stemmed from lack of research.

“There is no fundamental study to back it up. It is just a gimmick that the government uses to stay relevant with the current global changes” he said.

Hizkia also doubts the implementation of the roadmap due to lack of coordination between ministries.

“I was invited to a meeting with Manpower Ministry to discuss the impact of the digital revolution on the workforce, they were almost clueless about what to do with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Clueless but positive

Despite lacking good policy, Indonesia is among the countries which decide to embrace the changes brought by the digital revolution.

Before “Making Indonesia 4.0”, Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo introduced a four-year economic plan to transform Indonesia into the largest Southeast Asian digital economy. Under the plan, Indonesia aims to create 1,000 high-tech startups by 2020, with a combined value of $10 billion.

There are at least seven unicorn startups in Southeast Asia, and four of them are in Indonesia. Unicorn is a title given to a startup company with a value of more than $1 billion.

Jokowi’s plan seems on track, but again, it only focuses on the big players.

So what can we do to improve this?

Understanding the global situation

Before taking lessons from other countries, we need to understand that not all countries are positive with the future of work under the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Pew Research Center’s latest survey indicates that developed and developing countries share the same concern that robots will eliminate jobs and increase inequality. Published in 2018, the survey took place in Greece, Japan, Canada, Argentina, Poland, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Hungary and the US.

However, a recent report by the World Economic Forum gives new hope. The report estimates while robots may displace 75 million jobs globally in the next ten years, 133 million new jobs could emerge due to automation.

Germany, the world’s most innovative economy, is one of the countries that ride on such optimism.

During a press tour organised by the German Academic Exchange and Service (DAAD) last year, The Conversation has witnessed how researchers and industrial players in Germany share the same optimism in their exploration to answer challenges and seek opportunities for work in the future.

“Individuals that are nervous create society that is nervous. A nervous society tends to not to embrace the technology [and] feel [only] danger,” said German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) spokesperson Reinhard Karger.

With the help of technology, humans can focus on improving their quality of life at home and work.

“Use the robot for tedious task or dangerous for your health,” DFKI senior researcher Tim Schwartz said.

Schwartz’s perspective echoes the German government’s White Paper on re-imagining work in the future.

The paper discusses different perspectives and scenarios on the future of work that will benefit the people and advance German’s economy. One of them is providing solutions in which technology can lighten people workloads.

Can Indonesia achieve that?

Indonesia may possess a positive attitude towards technological changes in the labour industry, but without the right policy, it may be useless.

“We need a policy that is based on good research that can really provide strong background to which direction the policy must focus on,” Hizkia said.

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