Education vs Automation

Technology and learning go hand in hand throughout history. Better tools enable individuals to challenge large enterprises and level the playing field for small nations; on the other, quality education provides the backbone for technological innovations and empowers the harnessing of possibilities that technology brings. My recent reunion with two old friends, whom I haven’t seen in ages, may very well lend some answers to this question.

My friends and I had studied together. After graduation, we moved to different corners of the planet but kept in touch. The recent career moves these two gentlemen made, say a lot about the promises and perils of automation at work.

Different Jobs, Same Work
One of my friends recently left his job at an established company where he led a small team to join a tech startup where he works alone. To my surprise, he mentioned that the nature of his work hasn’t changed much. He explained that the same tasks he used to ask his subordinates to help with are now handled by a suite of tools that his more technologically enabled startup has developed.

My other friend has just opened a small retail business that sells quality culinary supplies. Unlike his parents who employed several people, my friend does his business alone. I asked him how he manages to juggle the operations, to which he replied – his bookkeeping app keeps his books for him, his email and customer relationship management (CRM) tool push sales, and all marketing activities are supported by user-friendly digital platforms. According to him, his small operation generates more revenue than his parents could ever imagine.

Education > Automation
In both examples, emerging technologies have enabled them to do more and better work faster. However, even as automation enables them to express their ideas in new ways, education appears to be the common factor that drives future success.

In fact, my first friend told me that he would gladly hire and train his former team when his company grows bigger. Similarly, my other friend doesn’t think he will work alone forever. As the business grows, he envisions that he will require people with deep domain expertise in technology, sales, and marketing. My entrepreneurial friends are optimistic about the future of work. And it is apparent that they are basing their positive outlook on training programmes they are building, in anticipation of their business growth.

Education First and Last, but Not Least
Actually, these same circumstances are also playing out at a macro level. Education has been one of the driving forces which establishes Singapore as a hub for entrepreneurship and deep tech disciplines such as artificial intelligence, smart urban infrastructure and healthtech.

Building on the momentum, Singapore has recently enlisted SCS’ help – with the launch of the Digital Proficiency Programme (DigiPro) – to enhance its national effort of upskilling digital competencies. The programme, which features cybersecurity, data analytics, digital content creation and personal branding courses, will equip professionals with the skills to leverage digital tools to grow their careers.

And the conversation with my old friends has definitely put the interplay of technology and education in perspective. Their stories are not only inspiring, but also evidence new opportunities technology creates and the role of education in transforming technology into a powerful creative force.