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International travel and migration in Fourth Industrial Revolution

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The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is changing today’s world. Globally, 64 percent of all migrant travellers have migrated for employment. However, traditional models of employment are increasingly replaced by new developments associated with the 4IR technologies. This height of technological advancements in some aspects is creating inadvertent challenges. 

 


4IR for travel
A major development in the travel and tourism sector in the 4IR is the disruption of the traditional tourism accommodation model of renting space. Challenging this model, Airbnb became operational from 2009, as a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique accommodations around the world. 


While the pre-travel stage is highly influenced by developments such as platforms and market places for researching and booking, the experience in the travel stage is closely intertwined to border control. 


The 4IR can add length and breadth to increase efficiency in border control by overhauling individual privacy and identity management related to border control and address issues such as queues, wait time, airline efficiency and customer experience. 


A technology that is increasingly used in identity management and individual privacy is blockchain. Blockchain is a public database or chain that stores cryptographically linked digital information, which is called a ‘block’. 


The security feature of blockchain is the unique identifier called ‘hash’, which stores cryptographic hash of the previous block, linking all blocks into a chain. Due to its design, tampering with data in a block is nearly impossible. 

 


Worker migration in 4IR
The global stock of migrants in 2018 is estimated at 266 million. Of which, close to two-thirds are migrant workers. In terms of contribution to GDP, cross-border migrants are estimated to have contributed 9.4 percent of global GDP or approximately US $ 6.7 trillion in 2015.


Innovative developments of the 4IR have revolutionised the world of work in ways that impact migrant workers. On the one hand, automation of routine work is increasingly displacing workers, including migrant workers. 


At the same time, when the developments in the 4IR, such as automation and robotics, become embedded into manufacturing processes, sensor technologies and the Internet of things create large amounts of operational data, which need to be captured, analysed and stored. This means a requirement for a workforce with higher-tech skills or specialised training compared to the traditional ‘blue-collar’ workers, whereby this new breed of worker is identified as the ‘new-collar’ or ‘digital-collar’ workers. 


These digital-collar jobs do not necessarily require advanced education or traditional education but the relevant skills often obtained through non-conventional education.


Yet, proficiency in new technologies is only one element of the future skill equation. While developments such as artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and robotics will lead to new jobs and increased productivity, these developments will also allow workers to focus on the human aspects of work. 


Despite the emergence of these ‘new-collar’ or ‘digital-collar’ workers, some ‘human-only’ characteristics, such as emotion, intellect, wisdom and ethics, cannot be automated. Thus, it creates a niche or a comparative advantage for humans in employment opportunities. 


The 4IR has enabled and reinforced a shift towards a world of working where skilled occupations have become more globally accessible, flexible and compartmentalised and performed via virtual labour migration. 


In future, employers will progressively look for task-specialised work, engage workers in a more flexible manner and utilise remote staff. These trends will increase job creation in project-based, temporary and freelancing roles, heading towards a structural transformation in the labour market and migrant workers in terms of contractual arrangements, employment relations and occupational profiles.

 


Way forward for Sri Lanka

  • Speedily adopt modern technologies in all aspects of the travel and tourism industry in Sri Lanka (not limiting to marketing/advertising) and integrate these technologies into services provided to travellers and into the growth strategy of the sector.
  • Border-control efforts to adopt appropriate 4IR technology and equipment to enhance efficiency and national security as well as improve passenger experience to maintain attractiveness and competitiveness as a travel and tourist destination.
  • Understand the potential of low-skilled migrant workers in terms of human-only jobs and revisit restrictions such as the FBR to facilitate employment in this niche market segment. 
  • Team up with other labour-sending countries and work towards marketing this human-only niche in low-skilled jobs in foreign labour markets to increase wages and improve worker welfare and protection for related occupations. 
  • Focus on catering to the emerging digital collar jobs, by expanding the existing Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) scheme to harness the knowledge and skills of returning migrants to reskill other returnees, potential migrants and workers in the domestic labour market.
  • Inculcate an institutional cultural for data sharing and inter-agency cooperation, providing soft skills for required related attitudinal changes, as well as relevant technology, skills and capacity. 
  • Develop an appropriate institutional/legislative framework to facilitate administrative data sharing and inter-agency cooperation.  
  • Develop a data security policy and adopt appropriate technology such as blockchain for data protection to facilitate data sharing.  
  • Finally, speedily and regularly analyse the large amount of administrative and big data routinely collected by public and private entities using modern technology, to facilitate evidence-based policy planning in travel, tourism, labour migration and remittances that is relevant in the 4IR.

(This policy insight is based on a chapter written for the ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2019’, on Transforming Sri Lanka’s Economy in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The chapter is authored by Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka Research Fellow Bilesha Weeraratne)  

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