Yashwini Thayalan is one of the happiest persons in Malaysia right now. She scored straight As in nine subjects in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, the results of which were released on June 8.
If Yashwini of Puchong Utama is up in the clouds, her parents Thayalan and Nageshwari are equally elated, if not more so. And they are immensely proud of their daughter.
In fact the parents of all 10,109 SPM candidates who scored straight As in the 2022 examination will be proud of the achievements of their child, as well they should be.
All the hard work has paid off for Yashwini, as it has for students who did well. And all the encouragement and pushing by her parents have borne fruit, as they have for parents of all the students who scored well.
The question before a young Yashwini, and her parents, and all others who sat for the SPM examination, and their parents, is “What now?”
This is the point at which they make a choice about what they want to do in future; a point where they will likely choose a career path. They may change careers later in life, but the post-SPM decisions are probably the most crucial before they enter university, the labour market and the working world.
Which direction should they take? What if their application to do matriculation is rejected? Should they study two years in Form Six and sit for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia or should they enroll into a private university and do a foundation course before proceeding to get a degree?
Then, there are those who did averagely well but not enough to get into a public university. Should they do diploma courses or apply for a foundation course at one of the many private universities? Or should they enroll in polytechnics?
Such questions are even more difficult for non-Malay students and parents due to the affirmative action policy in education that favours Malays and Bumiputeras. Not all top non-Malay students are assured of a place in matriculation or of scholarships.
The situation of students who did very well and show great potential but whose parents are strapped for cash is even more tragic.
Those who can afford to or who get rejected by public universities or who feel the standards at public universities are low will almost certainly apply for places in private universities.
Financially better off parents will send their child to foreign universities, as will struggling parents who feel they must give their child a foreign education so that he or she will be “successful” in life.
For most students and parents, higher education and a university degree simply means better job opportunities. The practical side of economic life triumphs over education ideals.
Most will consider careers in medicine, engineering, law and accountancy as these are not only respected fields but also well-paying.
But I would advise students and parents to consider for a moment the direction in which the world, especially work life, is heading. I don’t know how many Malaysians are aware that humans are on the cusp of a paradigm shift due to advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI).
With the speed at which AI learns and performs, many traditional jobs are under threat.
If students choose wrongly, they may end up without a job or fighting with others for a few jobs in a particular field because AI machines and gadgets can do the job at greater speed, and more efficiently.
Students should realise that the very nature of work and the workplace is changing. Many types of jobs will become obsolete and new jobs requiring different skill sets will emerge.
OpenAI – the company behind ChatGPT – published a research paper in March which showed that 80% of the US workforce could have at least 10% of their tasks affected by the introduction of its GPTs, which are neural network machine learning models, or artificial intelligence in simple language.
It said 19% of workers will see at least 50% of their tasks impacted by GPT and, interestingly, such exposure is greater for higher-income jobs.
The biggest impact is expected to be on information services, the publishing industry, data processing services and the insurance industry. The least impact is likely to be on food manufacturing, agriculture and forestry-related industries.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, the global job market will see massive disruption due to the emergence of AI and automation.
The bosses of 803 companies operating in 45 nations whom it interviewed for the report said they expected 69 million new jobs to be created by 2027 and 83 million jobs to become obsolete.
According to the report, released in May, AI and machine learning specialist, data analyst and digital transformation specialist are the most prominent emerging jobs.
It says AI and machine learning specialists, fintech engineers, robotics engineers, information security analysts, digital transformation specialists and agricultural equipment operators will be in great demand.
“Data analytics, climate change and environmental management technologies, and encryption and cybersecurity are expected to be the biggest drivers of job growth” the report said.
In March, Goldman Sachs issued a report, based on a study in the US and Europe, saying: “We find that roughly two-thirds of current jobs are exposed to some degree of AI automation, and that generative AI could substitute up to one-fourth of current work. Extrapolating our estimates globally suggests that generative AI could expose the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs to automation.”
Among the areas at risk of greatest exposure and that could be automated, the study found, include: office and administrative support (46%), legal (44%), architecture and engineering (37%) business and financial operations (35%), community and social service (33%), management (32%) and sales and related jobs (31%).
Take note though that the degree of impact will not be the same for all countries.
There is, however, no escaping the fact that automation will eat into a considerable number of jobs in the next decade and that new jobs will emerge.
So Yashwini and those who have completed SPM and are considering career choices – whether in furthering their studies or starting work – should think about possible future scenarios before committing themselves.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect those of FMT.