Rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are about to revolutionise society in ways we cannot yet imagine. Many will welcome the possibilities brought about by the technological shake-up, but there is also growing uncertainty about the long-term impact on jobs.
The Future of Apps – an F5-commissioned report by the Foresight Factory – recently reported that 30% of South Africans between the ages of 16 and 25 believe their current job could be replaced by AI or robots within the next decade.
While fear of the technological unknown is understandable, it is important to realise that it is not all about supplanting humans in the workplace. Increased automation is an innovation enabler and astute businesses are moving fast to nurture employee skill sets in other areas.
New World Economic Forum (WEF) figures show that 39% of core skills required across industries in South Africa will be completely different in three years’ time. Those failing to rapidly recalibrate workplace development strategies could soon face dwindling productivity levels and profits.
WEF also predicts a total loss of 7.1 million jobs worldwide between 2015 and 2020, two-thirds of which will hit white collar and largely administrative roles. On the flip side, professions in IT, mathematics, architecture and engineering are expected to gain around 2 million jobs.
Less time-consuming administration will pave the way for jobs with greater focus and influence. To be match-fit for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, companies need to focus on intelligently combining traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skill sets with emerging ICT disruption.
Competition is already intensifying in fields like data analytics. Clearly, businesses need talented individuals to help them harness and draw meaningful insights from massive, exponentially increasing torrents of data.
Other areas set to be in-demand will encompass interpersonal skills, such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and educative proficiency. Specifically, there will be a need for technical ability complemented by dynamic social skills.
Getting your recruitment and development strategy right from the outset is essential. According to the WEF, skills related to computing, mathematics and other tech-based specialists are in short supply and the situation is expected to worsen between now and 2020.
Encouragingly, The Future of Apps report describes how the dangers of a looming skill gap will also prompt a new era of conscientious collaboration. A case in point is last year’s formation of the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society – a collaboration between Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft, the initiative is intended to advance public understanding of the sector and set standards for future researchers.
Public bodies are also adapting. The Future of Apps reports that Members of European Parliament are pushing for the creation of a European agency for AI and robotics to supply public authorities with technical, ethical and regulatory expertise. Similar moves are expected in Africa. Wherever you look, significant change is coming. Companies need to recognise these trends and plan better to future-proof their market relevance. Talent and technology go hand in hand. Now is the time to embrace innovation and put new conscientious skills at the forefront of business.
By Martin Walshaw