Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Expert: Don’t ignore blue-collar workers in digital push

Published:Sunday | December 8, 2019 | 12:00 AMAlbert Ferguson - Gleaner Writer
Dr Kala Fleming, chief executive officer at Diaspora AI.


Dr Kala Fleming, chief executive officer at Diaspora AI, says technology and digital transformation have less impact when it ignores large segments of society such as blue-collar workers.

A blue-collar worker is a class of person who performs manual labour and who may also be involved in carrying out skilled or unskilled labour in several key areas to include, but is not limited to, manufacturing, mining, plumbing, farming, landscaping, construction, and maintenance.

Fleming said that digital technology would have no real meaning if it is not being used to enhance the blue-collar sectors of individual countries with the potential of having a workforce of technologically smarter individuals.

Addressing delegates at the fourth staging of the Tech Beach Retreat in Montego Bay, St James, last week, Fleming said that for the most part, people tend to associate technology and smart cities with a certain set of technical people, which is a narrow view of who can lead Jamaica’s digital transformation.

“I am saying that’s fine, we need that, but if that’s all that technology means to us, then we are missing a critical opportunity for thinking about how to transform, in a meaningful way, our community,” Fleming said Friday.

“And I am saying if we don’t better engage our blue collar, which predominantly makes up our workforce, then what are we doing?” she asked.

“If all they are doing is checking Facebook, but not actually now changing the way they are working or being levelled up to the digital age, then we are missing a big opportunity,” warned Fleming.

Losing out

She said that if individual countries are not now taking steps to digitalise their blue-collar sector through digital transformation, they run the risk of losing out on the opportunities to change the way of work and how communities are able to function.

Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner, Fleming said that Jamaica has embarked on a digital transformation pilot project with a view of understanding how best to embrace the digital transformation of its blue-collar sector.

She added that under the project, the nation is training a set of plumbers, using a special application in collaboration with the National Water Commission (NWC).

“We have a digital plumbers pilot that’s being run in collaboration with Jamaican workforce development experts at the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, Change-Makers, and the World Bank,” she revealed.

In the case of plumbing, Fleming shared that digital for the plumber will mean that in addition to being the expert on the pipes and fittings in putting things together, he will now have analysis skills that are not necessarily a requirement for you to be a plumber.

The NWC is among the first utility companies in the world to embrace this approach as it thinks of innovative ways of knowing its customers better via the blue-collar digital transformation training.

According to the Diaspora AI expert, the move by Jamaica through this pilot project augurs well for the country’s quest towards its 2030 goals of being the place to work, do business, raise families and retire in paradise.