PETALING JAYA: A rush by industries to embrace technology and automation may be detrimental to employment prospects for Malaysians, according to an academic.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia principal research fellow Prof Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong said the Covid-19 pandemic has already posed a major threat to employment in the country.

He said if industries embrace the fourth industrial revolution (IR4.0) too soon, a lot more people will lose their jobs, exacerbating the unemployment problem.

“We should not rush into adopting artificial intelligence (AI) and automation at the expense of employees,” he told theSun yesterday.

In any case, Malaysia is not as ready as more advanced nations to accept IR4.0, he said.

“I think we should not be jumping to embrace it. We are not that advanced, and not all our people are educated in this field. If we are to embrace IR4.0 fully, we will find that more (people) will be out of job.

“What the government and industry need to do is find a balance between moving towards this front and maintaining things as it is.”

Teo was asked if the government is doing enough to prepare the workforce and future generations in embracing IR4.0.

He said efforts to reskill and upskill workers will be the best way forward, although this can take up to a decade before they can be properly retrained and the results become apparent.

Teo added that educating future generations as early as in schools, including teaching coding skills, is also not that simple, particularly in the rural areas and more remote areas in Sabah and Sarawak.

“Singapore is a small city-state with a higher standard of living and is almost fully urbanised, making it easier for them to make coding part of the syllabus even in primary school.

“We are much bigger, and so is our rural-urban gap. We don’t want a situation where only those in the city benefit, and those in the rural areas miss out,” he said.

Parent Action Group for Education (Page) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim similarly said tailoring the syllabus is not exactly straightforward, particularly as a lot of money needs to be invested in gadgets, internet access and cloud storage.

“If you go to rural areas, many higher education institution students do not even have laptops or smartphones. It is basic.

“And frankly, we (the government) are not investing enough. I would say this is largely due to a cumulation of leakages, and we really need to get rid of middle men in our procurement.”

Noor Azimah also lamented the lack of government action to push Malaysia towards IR4.0, saying the Covid-19 crisis is proof of this.

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‘Don’t rush into IR4.0, lest more will be jobless’

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