The digital age and the new technologies that it brings – blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality – are seen by many as a threat to our way of life as we know it. What if my job is automated? How do I stay relevant? How do we adapt to the need for new skills to manage customer expectations and the flow of data that washes over us?
The bad news is that the nature of the work has changed irrevocably. Everything that can be automated will be. We already live in a time of "robotic restaurants", where you order on a touchscreen and cook machines and serve your food. Did you notice the difference? AmazonGo offers shopping without checkout lines. In the US alone, an estimated 3.4 million drivers can be replaced in 10 years by self-driving vehicles, including truck drivers, taxi drivers and bus drivers.
We are not immune to this phenomenon in Africa. The World Economic Forum (WEF) even predicts that 41% of all work activities in South Africa are subject to automation, compared with 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. This does not mean that millions of jobs will be automated on the continent at night, but it is a clear indication of the future direction we will follow.
The good news is that we do not have to panic. What is important to us in South Africa and the continent is to realize that there is enough work that only people can do. This is particularly relevant for the African context, since in 2030 the working-age population increased from 370 million in 2010 to 600 million in 2010. We have a flood of young people needing jobs – and the digital age has ability to provide them, as we begin to work now.
Make no mistake, there is no doubt that this so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution & # 39; will disrupt many activities. This is completely natural: every industrial revolution has made some jobs superfluous. At the same time, these revolutions have created huge new opportunities that have made us progress exponentially.
Between 2012 and 2017, for example, it was estimated that the demand for data analysts grew by 372% overall and the demand for data visualization increased by more than 2000%. As a company, this means that we not only need to create new jobs in the field of data science and analytics, but we have to revoke our existing employees to tackle the digital revolution and the new demands.
So, while bus drivers and data clerks are nervously looking over their shoulders at the moment, we see that a large number of new jobs are being created in areas such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), data analysis, computer science and engineering.
This is a challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, where our levels of STEM education are still not where they should be. That does not mean that there are no opportunities to get. In the region, for example, we have a real opportunity to create a new generation of indigenous digital creators, designers and home-grown creators, not just "digital deliverers". People who understand African nuances and stories and who not only speak local languages, but are also fluent digital.
This ability to bridge the digital and physical worlds, as it were, will be the new gold for Africa. We need more data analysts for business operations, who combine thorough knowledge of their sector with the latest analytical tools to adapt business strategies. There will also be more demand for user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless interaction between people and machines.
In the longer term, we will of course have to make some fundamental decisions in Africa about how we educate people if we want to become part of this brave new world. Governments, large corporations and civil society will all have a role to play in creating more future-proof educational systems, including extensive access to early childhood education, better educated teachers, investments in digital speaking skills and ICT skills, and the provision of sound technical and professional qualifications. . education and training (TVET). This will not only be important from a policy point of view, but also the financial means to finance this.
None of this will happen overnight. So what can we do in the meantime, as an individual and as business people? A good start would be to realize that the old models of learning and working are broken. Jenny Dearborn, Global Lead of Learning from SAP, explains how the old approach to learning and working in general was a life in three phases that consisted largely of apprenticeship and retirement.
Today we live in what Mrs Dearborn calls life in multiple phases, which includes different phases of learning – working – changing – learning – working. And where previously, learning was often done by rote, because information was finite, now learning is all about critical thinking, complex problem solving ability, creativity and innovation and even the ability not to learn what you have learned before.
Helping to contribute to this culture of lifelong learning, including offering adult training and upskilling, is something that all companies can do from now on. The research is clear: even if jobs are stable or growing, they undergo major changes in their skills profile. The Future of Jobs analysis of the WEF showed that in South Africa alone 39% of the core skills required in all professions by 2020 will be different than what was needed to implement these roles in 2015.
This is a huge wake-up call for companies to make meaningful investments in on-the-job training to keep their people – and themselves – relevant in this new digital age. There is no doubt that more learning will have to take place in the workplace and that more involvement from the private sector is needed. Since employers need to work closely together, we must therefore offer schools, universities and even non-formal education to offer learning opportunities to our employees.
We can also place a much stronger emphasis on so-called "soft skills", which is often used as a somewhat dismissive term in the workplace. The core skills needed in today's workplace are active listening, speaking and critical thinking. A quick look at the WEFs "21st In the eternal skills needed for the future of work, this becomes clear: as much as we need literacy, numeracy and IT skills to understand the modern working world, we also need human skills such as communication and collaboration. The good news is that they can not only be taught, but that they can also be taught in the work environment.
It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but to be successful in the digital age, companies will have to go back to what has always made them strong: their people. Everyone can buy KI, build data warehouses and automate every process that is in sight. The companies that stand out will be those who focus on things that can not be copied by AI or machine learning – unique human skills.
I have no doubt that the future will not be people OR robots: they will be people AND robots side by side. For us as business people and children of the African continent we are on the verge of a great opportunity. We just have to understand.