Technological advancements call for a new discussion on skills

Height is always something that fascinates most of us. When one moves from a rural area to the city the fascination is usually not so much about the cars but the height of the buildings. Someone who is new in a city is likely to ask about which building is the tallest and how tall it is. In my primary school days in Uganda it was even a question that often appeared in an exam.

Height is always something that fascinates most of us. When one moves from a rural area to the city the fascination is usually not so much about the cars but the height of the buildings. Someone who is new in a city is likely to ask about which building is the tallest and how tall it is. In my primary school days in Uganda it was even a question that often appeared in an exam.  

Today if you are in Kampala and someone asked you which building is the tallest, you may have to quickly follow it up with a question as to why they are asking. The recent spate of suicide attempts by people jumping off high rise buildings has reached worrying levels. Recently a video went viral on social media of a young man (only 17) jumping off a building (Mabirizi Complex) in an attempt to take his own life.

 

He landed on a car, broke a bone or two and spent some time in hospital. Another one then jumped at Garden City mall and another one tried the same thing at another high rise shopping mall (Faibaah Plaza) still in Kampala. The reactions to these unfortunate situations have been even more disturbing. Some tabloids run with headlines of how the troubled people ‘failed to die’ while social media was awash with lots of jokes and (wait for this) suggestions on how these people can do the same thing effectively.

 

Instead of making suggestions on how people should take their lives shouldn’t we be having a discussion on this thing called depression and anything else that may push one to consider taking their own life?  All the people who tried to commit suicide in Kampala are fairly young men with frustrations that are sometimes linked (but not limited) to unemployment.

 

We are living at a time when our academic institutions produce way more people than the labour market can take on. To make matters worse a big number of those coming through our education systems are really not that skilled. They just have a certificate to flash around before a job interview. We have given them a certificate when what they really need are skills. We then try to make them feel good by urging them to be job creators and not job seekers.

The truth is that we need a robust discussion on the skills our young people need to stay relevant in this ever changing society. Last week I acquired my ‘tap and go’  transport card to allow me to move around Kigali now that most buses have a cashless facility where I just  have to load money on the card and tap it on a machine as you enter a commuter bus.

I won’t lie, the technology is cool and I am happy for my friend Patrick who has been working hard to see that it sees the light of day. It reminded me of the days I was in Nairobi and it was cool to use Google’s BebaPay cards in their Matatus. The difference with the Kigali system though is that it has phased out the conductors. They are all out of job now thanks to a technological advancement that has rendered them useless.

The drivers of the buses must be feeling a bit lucky that at least they still have their jobs behind the steering wheels. They should however stay on the lookout because right now the biggest fascination in the tech world is driverless cars. Uber, Google, Ford and so many others are in a rush to tie up the loose ends on this.

A debate on BBC a few months back tackled this issue of whether technology kills or creates jobs. One person argued that technology is about efficiency and essentially aims at ensuring that we use our time more efficiently. To him, an able-bodied adult human being is not really being productive by sitting behind a car when they can be doing something else in that time. In other words, their skill is not that valuable to society and it is ok for technology to take over.  

That is an argument that makes sense when you look at what conductors have being doing. The question therefore should shift to what skill should these young men and women acquire in order to remain relevant in society and not have to resort to crime. Our fascination with technology needs to be matched by our desire to arm our young people with relevant skills.

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