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Commissiong calls for jobs task force

Impact of technology: PLP’s Rolfe Commissiong

Opposition MP Rolfe Commissiong is calling for a Government-wide task force to break an alarming trend of job losses due to technological advances.

Government’s education, immigration, economic development, workforce development and finance departments should all team up in a single Cabinet-level group, he said, to tackle the impact of technology on Bermuda’s employment picture.

Mr Commissiong, the shadow minister of Human Affairs, who said he is hoping to convince Progressive Labour Party colleagues to join him in his stance, pointed to research showing more than 3,000 jobs were lost from the Bermuda economy largely as a result of technological advances since 2000.

Many of these posts disappeared before the recession, and Mr Commissiong fears even an economic upturn will not be enough to bring them back.

The Pembroke South East MP said: “I’m increasingly of the view that, if we want to see the Bermuda that we are looking to see in 2025 we need to start doing things differently now, and working towards that goal starting now.

“This issue is so important to Bermuda’s future that to me nothing less than a multi-departmental task force operating at the Cabinet level is going to be necessary to begin to tackle these complex issues.”

Mr Commissiong said instead of individual ministries and departments acting in isolation, a joined-up Government would be able to offer “holistic solutions and collaborative models in terms of how we begin to tackle these major critical issues”. He said he hoped to convince his PLP colleagues to join him in his stance on the issue.

“I really believe that our workforce development goals are not going to be attainable if education is not in sync, if immigration is not in sync, if economic development and finance is not in sync with those goals because each of those critical departments and the ministries they belong to play a critical role in us dealing with this issue,” he said.

Mr Commissiong said a 2013 speech by Doug Soares, the managing partner of Expertise, had shown that 3,127 jobs were lost from the Bermudian economy since 2000 “largely due to the technological disruption unleashed by the advances in automation: 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics”.

Between 2000 and 2012, these included more than 400 clerical jobs, more than 750 in manufacturing, more than 1,000 in retail and repair, more than 750 in transport and communications, and 63 in the utilities industry.

Mr Commissiong said actuarial, accounting and legal services are already being outsourced overseas, and added: “The next trend is to have these tasks not outsourced to somebody in India, but outsourced to an algorithm.

“It is increasingly going to affect people at the high end, people with significant skill levels working at the high professional levels.

“The key takeaway on this is that we should no longer be preparing people to work in a world that no longer exists. I’m not saying we’re there now, but clearly the trend’s indicating that we are going to be there soon.

“My great concern now, of course, is for the overall economic health of Bermuda, because if we don’t maintain that it is going to further fray our social cohesion but, moreover, that we don’t repeat the same mistake that occurred back during that late 80s and early 90s period.”

Mr Commissiong brought a motion to the House of Assembly on the subject in June, urging members to “take note of the growing and increasingly complex challenges due to globalisation and the growing demand for smart talent and competitive advantage in the 21st century”.

He reflected: “We’ve got to have workforce development for the 21st century and it’s got to start at the strategic level, which is what I was trying to do with this paper: to highlight the urgency of moving in that direction.”