SOCIO-ECONOMIC VOICES

"Gig Economy and Virtual Jobs Have Potential for Growth' Must Be Considered for Future Employment Opportunities"
-Manav Subodh,Founder 1M1B, Former Senior Fellow and Global Ambassador, UC Berkeley
"Integrating AI-based Learning into the Curriculum and Collaboration with Industries can Bridge the Gap between Education & Job Market"

Intro: In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized many fields, including medicine, finance, and entertainment. However, concerns about the ethical implications of AI have also grown. One of the major issues is bias in AI systems, which can perpetuate and even amplify discrimination and inequality. Another challenge is ensuring the safety and security of AI, especially as it becomes more sophisticated and autonomous. On Socio-Economic-Voices this time, Senior Journalist Mahima Sharma holds an in-depth interaction with Manav Subodh, Founder 1M1B, whose organisation leverages digital technologies to provide equal opportunities in education, skilling, and entrepreneurship to the youth of India. Manav shares how a lot has been done in India and what more is needed. Take a read of the exclusive at Indiastat…

Mahima: What's your take on the Union Budget as far as tech-based education is concerned in India? Also your overall take on the Union Budget and how it will benefit the grass root level people?

MS: On the overall union budget, it’s encouraging to see the focus that has been given to the pillars of inclusive development, youth skills and climate action. Initiatives such as creating an Agriculture Accelerator Fund to encourage agri-startups by young entrepreneurs in rural areas are fantastic as they work at the intersection of different issues ranging from climate to youth skilling to entrepreneurship. I applaud the effort of ensuring the economic development of our country and its grassroot communities while simultaneously working towards building a greener economy.

As far as technology-based education is concerned, I would like to provide my comments under the following heads:

  • Taking AI to the grassroots: By launching the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana 4.0 to train our youth on courses like coding, AI, robotics etc and setting up 30 'Skill India International Centres' to prepare our youth for international opportunities, the budget seems to recognize the importance of leveraging our demographic dividend by democratising AI skills and technology across different strata of our youth.
  • Setting up digital libraries: To address the pandemic-time learning losses, the budget has allocated funds to open a National Digital Library for Children to build a culture of reading. This is a great use of technology that could facilitate greater access to a wider variety of literature for students sitting in even remote areas.
  • Teacher’s continuous development: The budget recognizes the importance of the Eklavya Model Residential Schools that serve over 3.5 lakh tribal students across India and has promised to recruit 38,8000 teachers and support staff to expand this endeavour. This is a great step-up initiative. However there could be a few challenges that I anticipate due to my experience on education and skilling at the grassroots. Teachers' support, motivation and even teachers’ recruitment are the main ones. Not only do we need to incentivize teachers to be life-long learners who can use technology to benefit their teaching, but we also need to create robust systems of support that can help teachers adopt and implement new technology education at the grassroots (perhaps in the form of a teacher tech helpline or a teacher support system needs to be created). I have seen many teachers struggle to implement a new subject in their classrooms even after receiving hours of training. Further, not only do we recruit more teachers - but more importantly, we need to make the job of a teacher seem more attractive, competitive and desirable. That is the next step towards strengthening our education system and integrating it with the power of technology.

Mahima: PMKVY 4.0, Union Budget 2023-24 and India's mission towards upskilling the youth in latest tech. What's you take on the same? And what steps need to be taken to ensure that every targeted Youth gets the benefit of the same?

MS: To bridge the gap between the ambitious scheme of upskilling our youth in the latest technology and the rigorous implementation required to achieve this vision, I feel like the following steps need to be taken:

  • Mobilising Industries to strengthen job training: Currently, our education system has not yet created a strong linkage with industries and corporations as a part of their job training. We need to mobilise more industries to come together so as to facilitate the offering of internships, projects and mentoring to our students before they enter the job-space. Workplace experiences are critical. Our skilling centres today are not aligned with what the industry wants, and it's time to integrate more project based learning into the curriculum collaboration with the industry itself.
  • Leveraging AR/VR to strengthen skilling: The biggest gap in our skilling centres today is the absence of an immersive and hands-on experience. By leveraging AR and VR technology using minimal infrastructure, we can provide students (regardless of location) with a real-time experience of what it's like to be on the floor of a manufacturing plant or a shop floor. After all, doing is the best way of learning - and this could be a significant opportunity to provide better and more lucrative jobs to marginalised communities in India. Here, I would like to note that I am happy to see the mention of ‘soft skills’ as a course offered by PMKBY 4.0. In today’s modern economy with its bevy of diverse organisations, the importance of soft skills cannot be understated - and we need to equip our students with the knowledge of how to conduct themselves in a professional setting. Organization ethics, behaviour, integrity, problem solving, empathy, collaboration and working in teams are some of the big skills that are required for sustainable jobs.
  • Enabling people for virtual jobs: Lastly, I think we need to think more about how we can empower our future workers to thrive in the creator’s and developer’s economy and take advantage of the new phenomenon of virtual and remote jobs. AI and Web 3.0 based Metaverse will further drive the gig economy and open opportunities in freelancing and solopreneurship.

Mahima: At a time when Artificial Intelligence is posing a threat to more and more jobs, your aim is to enable students in the hinterlands to learn about disruptive technologies that will open a new world of career options to them. What kind of a policy change is required to be implemented in India at both the HRD ministry as well as individual HR levels in organisations, to ensure minimal job loss?

MS: On the first part of the question, I feel like it's important to contextualise the AI disruption today and how it is very similar to the disruption caused by computers in the 1980s. When excel came in, accountants thought their jobs were over; and they weren’t the only ones. And yes, some jobs did get obsolete. But this paved the way for newer and better jobs - jobs that leveraged these tools to make processes more efficient and make space for innovative thinking.

The first thing that we need to remember is that there are certain aspects to a job that cannot be automated and will always require human intervention. These involve skills like problem-solving, empathy, collaboration and communicating with people - things machines cannot do. This is why these soft skills, or the 4th industrial revolution skill sets become even more important. To be able to ride this AI wave, we need to train our younger generations on soft skills as much as we train them on AI and digital skills. This will ensure that students even in the hinterlands will not be affected by any kind of job loss and will instead be able to access better ones. Soft skills are going to be increasingly important in the digital economy.

At a policy level, one thing that we need to do is enable industries and MNCs to accept workers who are under-18 years of age as interns. Currently, very few industries will risk hiring minors - and this creates a huge absence of internship opportunities for students in school who could benefit from the hands-on experience early on. We need to remember that around 50% of student’s dropout of school before completing class 10 (according to U-DISE), and this means that more than half of our students don’t even get the opportunity to work on a shop floor before having to seek refuge in the informal sector after dropping out. So could we think of ways to legislate and create internship opportunities and workplace experiences for students who are under-18?

Mahima: Your organisation talks of inclusion. How are you planning to create a force of intelligentsia as far as the disabled youth are concerned, because this is where India needs to focus?

MS: I would like to answer this question in two parts:

Empowering our youth to take on virtual jobs

In order to create a pipeline of future-ready developers on immersive technologies, we have launched “Creators of Metaverse” as a micro-internship and workplace experience program. This will target over 10 million educators and students to become Meta Spark Blueprint developers, and will also be available on the SWAYAM portal (the world’s largest MOOC with over 1 million registered users). By doing so, we are training young people how to become solopreneurs by leveraging the scope of the newly emerging virtual economy - thereby increasing access and providing economic mobility to the younger generations. Many economists have spoken before about the challenges of India’s labour-centred workforce when battling with global economies of scale - and how this reinforces a vicious cycle of generational poverty. By empowering students and workers through immersive technology, our organisation is shifting our workforce towards a creator-orientation which will allow differently able and marginalised students to break this cycle. Dubai announced plans to create 40,000 virtual jobs by the year 2030, leveraging the Metaverse. India has exponential potential for virtual jobs.

Using immersive technology to democratise access to education

We are also working closely to make skilling education more accessible by integrating AR and VR into school curriculum across subjects. We have helped to create modules on Digital Citizenship and AR-VR Skills for Grade 6-8; currently offered to 25,000 schools. And we are also developing AR-VR modules for grade 9-12. By facilitating the development of immersive STEM modules, virtual science labs - we are increasing the access to education for disabled students who can even sit in their homes now and conduct science experiments virtually. As an organisation, we strongly believe in the power of immersive technology in levelling the playing field for all students - regardless of class, location, and different abilities.

Mahima: India at Davos declared that it has a shortage of 3 million cyber executives. On the other hand, globally AI is taking over business management and leading to job losses. So where does India stand amid this scenario? For a better position by 2030, what all steps and international collabs must India look at?

MS: The first step to achieve this is spreading awareness about the rights you possess in the digital world and the responsibilities that come with. One cannot stop their children from using a phone or getting on the internet anymore. To have a virtual presence has become almost essential in today’s world; and we need to focus on encouraging a digital life that is treated with responsibility and maturity. Keeping children safe online should be a top priority.

For instance, 1M1B has worked to create a curriculum on Digital Citizenship which outlines the code-of-conduct for this virtual world, along with steps on how to secure your privacy and protect yourself against cyber-threats. Over 230,000 teachers and 1,450,000 students have been impacted by these modules so far and we are currently creating modules for grades 9-12 as well. We have further partnered with Meta to launch the ‘Digital Nagarik’ pledge to spread more awareness about what it means to be a responsible netizen. The campaign was launched on Safer Internet on 7th February 2023, and withing 7 days it recorded 10,000 pledges including pledges from student and teachers from tribal schools.

For a better position by 2030, India needs to look at more collaborations that enable the grassroot communities of India to recognize how valuable the digital economy can be for them, while equipping them with the tools to thrive and find their own standing. This process needs to start in our schools so we ensure that our future workforce can not only go on to become powerful cyber executives, but also creators and developers in the global digital economy.

Mahima: Artificial Intelligence - a certain bot (ChatGPT) has been found to be used by students in a few nations to complete their homework, school assignments and more. What kind of regulations are needed to ensure that human intelligence does not take a beating when it comes to AI?

MS: I would like to take a different approach to this question. Of course, there need to be more advanced regulations in place to ensure that students are ethical and using these bots to complete their own work. But more importantly, I would like us to explore the question: Can we instead transform our education system so that it cannot be so easily fooled by bots?

Our education system has been due a reckoning for years. For too long, it has faced the criticism that it focuses too much on rote-learning, easy to copy projects and mindless application of theory. I would like to posit that every tech disruption is good, and in this regard, ChatGPT is good because it forces our education system to change and focus its efforts on building more human-centric skills - such as problem solving, collaboration, empathy and sensitivity. More importantly, it pushes us to build competencies around conducting research, producing commentaries and distilling insights as core-skills for our students. Real life application of education and skilling should be the core focus.

AI bots are here to make our jobs easier. It can provide us with statistical data at the click of a finger, it simplifies our research and it adds a certain finesse to the end-product. But AI also has its own limitations and comes with its own biases. Its application will always require human intervention and discretion, identifying fake news and biases requires a strong human intervention. Emergence of bots such as ChatGPT might be the wakeup call the system needed.

Mahima: You have been laying stress on the need for a ‘Constitution for Metaverse.’ Please throw some light on the same based on statistics, as to why it is needed? How can global economies assure the same?

MS: Let me answer each part separately:

The Need for a Constitution

Web 3.0 or Immersive technologies based Metaverse are changing the way we engage with the World around us. It might have been hard to imagine how crucial and omnipresent this digital world might have been pre-covid, but with everything ranging from work meetings, casual catch-ups, training sessions, skilling and education taking place online - we know that the digital world has become as important as the physical one.

In this digital world, Metaverse is the new internet. Web 3.0, as it's called. Back when the internet first entered our lives, we simply inherited it as consumers and had no way to shape its future. But the emergence of Metaverse provides us with an opportunity to redefine and upend that relationship of consumers to become creators instead. By empowering ourselves as creators, we can ensure that we build a more inclusive Metaverse. By bringing cultural and language sensitivities, it can be leveraged in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, and not as a way to further it.

To achieve this vision, we need to put in place some guidelines, principles and vision that empower individuals, businesses and governments alike to use the Metaverse to create meaningful and innovative change. Similar to how new countries use a constitution to establish themselves, I feel like we need to create a Constitution for the Metaverse to ensure the safety of its future.

Now coming to the Crucial Steps

The first step towards building the framework for a constitution is to create a Global Drafting Committee which involves the top 10-15 countries who lead technological innovation globally (eg, Japan, USA, Germany, India etc). The members of this committee should involve IT experts, leading innovators/practitioners and even government officials who act as representatives for their country. A key principle of this constitution at the global level should be that all core building blocks for the Metaverse should be made of open standards and open source code. This will ensure easy and open innovation for developers as well as push data policies towards a more transparent and understandable direction. The constitution also needs to emphasise the importance of investing in upgrading the IT infrastructure in government systems. Public schools and colleges should be mandated to act in tandem with policy and curriculum shifts. This will help us to move away from the “catch up” strategy that follows technology disruption.

Mahima: Your organisation has recently partnered National Education Society for Tribal Students (NESTS) under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to train teachers and students of Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) on Digital Safety, AR, VR, AI and future tech. What does your organisation plan to achieve in the next five years via this partnership? And how?

MS: It is estimated that over 23 million jobs will be enhanced by immersive technology by 2030, and this number doesn’t even account for the new jobs that the virtual economy will create. By partnering with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to introduce AR/VR skills as a subject in over 200 Eklavya model Residential Schools, my organisation is working towards ensuring that tribal and marginalised communities in India will be ready to access those jobs in the next 5-10 years.

Technological advancements have an interestingly dynamic relationship with inclusion. They can either enhance socio-economic differences or bridge them very quickly, depending on how it is implemented and how quickly systems evolve to democratise technology. This is why we believe that it is imperative to orient tribal communities living in our hinterlands with new-age skills so that they can avail of all the virtual opportunities that are coming up. Not only will this enhance the quality of education that they receive, but it will also directly lead to them being able to access better paying and more skilled jobs. Whether you stay in a rural village in Jharkhand or in underserved areas of Delhi, Mumbai, or Bangalore, you might still be able to work at Google or IBM. That is the future we are inspired to create.

Mahima: What kind of careers must students in India focus on in the next five years so as to ensure a sustainable job in future?

MS: Before I get into the kind of jobs that students in India should focus on in the next 5 years, I want to highlight that students need to pivot from acquiring degrees towards focusing on building skills first. As I've spoken about earlier, the AI revolution will certainly make certain kinds of jobs obsolete. The focus of employability will now shift towards students possessing strong 4th industrial revolution soft skills - such as problem solving, collaboration and empathy. These cannot be automated and will only rise in value once AI enters and takes over the workspace. My advice would be to focus less on accumulating academic degrees and credentials, and instead to focus on building and showcasing these human-centric skills. The world is moving to a skills first approach. Organizations are hiring based on a skills CV and not just on academic credentials.

Secondly, I think the green economy is going to take centre-stage this decade. A number of new jobs are going to come up in the climate technology space as India works to fulfil its carbon-neutral commitments and vision. A lot of businesses are going to be looking for 'Sustainability Managers', or a workforce with a sustainability mindset. Car manufacturers are going to be looking for engineers who specialise in EV and climate-friendly technology is going to be the next realm of innovation. Ironically, the most sustainable job in the future will be in the space of sustainability itself. So regardless of what it is, do start thinking of ways you can hone and integrate an environmental consciousness into your favourite subject. The world needs engineers who can work on low or green power technologies, lawyers are needed who understand environment policies, accountants, CFA's and finance people are required who understand ESG investing. The need for green skills to respond to green jobs and policies will only grow from here.

About Manav Subodh

Manav Subodh is the founder of 1M1B, and a former global ambassador at University of California Berkeley’s College of Engineering, SCET. With over 22 years of experience, Manav's passion is to leverage digital technologies to provide equal opportunities in education, skilling, and entrepreneurship to the youth of India. With a vision to empower 10 million youth and 1 million teachers in the next 3 years, Manav is leading the development of a future ready technology workforce with support from the Indian government and corporations like IBM, Meta, Adobe and Microsoft.

Manav asserts he is passionate about empowering youth to activate their ideas and get them to reality using entrepreneurial thinking. A series of events, including his experiences with youth during the Arab spring inspired Manav to leave his corporate job at Intel corporation and start 1M1B (1 Million for 1 Billion). Prior to starting his entrepreneurial journey full time, beside Intel, Manav worked for organisations like EY, Hughes and QAI.

In the year 2016, he was invited to present his work at the United Nations to over 900 delegates from over 110 countries on the theme ‘Young Women as an Economic Force’ during the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women Youth Forum at the UN headquarters in New York. In October 2019, Manav had the honour to present his work on rural entrepreneurship at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference, at Salt Lake City.

About the Interviewer

Mahima Sharma is a Senior Journalist based in Delhi NCR. She has been in the field of TV, Print & Online Journalism since 2005 and previously an additional three years in the allied media. In her span of work she has been associated with CNN-News18, ANI - Asian News International (A collaboration with Reuters), Voice of India, Hindustan Times and various other top media brands of their times. In recent times, she has diversified her work as a Digital Media Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist as well. Since March 2022, she is also an Entrepreneurship Education Mentor at Women Will - An Entrepreneurship Program by Google in Collaboration with SHEROES. Mahima can be reached at media@indiastat.com

Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the interviewed protagonist. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist and the opinions appearing in the answers do not reflect the views of Indiastat or the Journalist. Indiastat or the Journalist do not hold any responsibility or liability for the same.

indiastat.comFebruary, 2023
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Anubha Srivastava, Ph.D., UGC NET, M. Com, CertIFR (ACCA)

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