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Robots will force a rethink on jobs

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In PwC’s latest report on the impact of automation, up to 38% of jobs in the US are at risk, with Germany (35%) and the UK (30%) not far behind, forcing us to rethink how secure our jobs really are, writes DANIEL SCHWARTZKOPFF, Co-Founder: DataProphet.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will dramatically reshape the world of work and force us to rethink our approach to our careers, our lives, and our aspirations. With a global market estimated to reach $70 billion by 2020, machine learning is driving fundamental change in the way every industry operates. Learning algorithms are already pioneering advances in customer service, manufacturing, healthcare, auditing, legal counsel, and insurance underwriting, with more industries to follow.

Old notions of job security have all but disappeared: the thought of working for the same company for 40 years until retirement is laughable. In 1965, corporations remained in the S&P 500 Index for an average of 33 years; by 2012 this had already shrunk to 18 years. With the rapid pace of development bankrupting and displacing large behemoths like Kodak and Blockbuster, no one should be under the illusion that a company is too big to fail.

Rise of the machines

In PwC’s latest report on the impact of automation, up to 38% of jobs in the US are at risk, with Germany (35%) and the UK (30%) not far behind. And it’s not manual labour that is most in peril: accountants, lawyers, call centre agents, machine operators, and insurance underwriters are at or near the top of lists of jobs most likely to become redundant thanks to machines.

In response, it is likely that the governments will start implementing policies to protect an already fragile job market. However, the commercial benefits of automation are vast and far-reaching. In an example recently cited by the World Economic Forum, a Chinese factory in Dongguan City replaced 90% of its workforce with machines, leading to an incredible 250% boost in productivity, with defects reduced by 80%.

Governments need to take a more forward-looking approach and find innovative ways of incentivising and equipping people to educate themselves. Learning the types of skills unlikely to be replaced by machines in the coming years is critical – especially here in Africa.

SA / Africa most vulnerable

South Africa’s latest unemployment figures paint a bleak picture: the official rate is 27.7%, or 6.2 million people who want to work but can’t find employment. A closer look, however, will reveal that the vast majority of the unemployed are without a tertiary education. Among graduates the unemployment rate is a mere 7.3%.

To help stimulate job creation, government and industry have worked hard at establishing a business process outsourcing (BPO) industry as a key job creator and economic driver. One industry body claims the sector already employs more than 30 000 people, and aims to grow this to 80 000 by 2021. Considering most of the outsourced jobs are in call centres and customer service, it is alarming that so much effort is being put into industries that are most at risk of automation.

Across the continent, explosive population growth is expected to bring a further 122 million people into the workforce by 2020. Due to shortcomings in the continent’s education sector, these workers are likely to be overwhelmingly unskilled or semi-skilled. Absorbing 122 million people into formal economic activity will be paramount to the continent’s on-going development and prosperity.

We need an urgent change in how we approach skills development and work.

Rethinking our approach to work

Those wishing to future-proof their careers should stop relying on traditional notions of work. Many of the skills required for the future – such as data science and machine learning – are not yet formally offered at university level, and even where they are the industry changes so quickly that by the time a student exits a four-year degree, much of their knowledge is already outdated. In response, we should all aspire to a lifelong approach to learning.

Developing skills in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields, as well as arts and humanities – where machines will struggle with replicating design, creation, empathy, and problem-solving thought – represents workers’ best defence against automation. Taking up online courses in specific fields that teach you marketable skills, for example, is one cost-effective way of empowering this new wave of jobseekers.

Encouragingly, many modern tech companies no longer look solely at academic transcripts and qualifications as the main benchmark of your employability. Instead, practical tests are given that gauge a candidate’s actual ability to complete work-related tasks and think creatively and laterally.

New skills for new jobs

This shift in skills development and training may pose severe challenges to those job seekers who are unable to pursue self-learning opportunities. Government, schools, and universities should therefore modernise their approach to training and education to ensure our immense talent pool is not left under- or unutilised.

It is certain that some jobs will be disrupted – even eliminated – by automation. Workers will need to develop a new mix of skills to meet the demands of entirely new job functions created in the course of our technological progress. Opposing progress to preserve automatable jobs is futile – it would not be wise to be remembered as the Luddites of the 21st century.

In a positive sign, 94% of executives surveyed in a recent study agreed that when administrative tasks are automated, the demand for jobs that require soft skills – such as creative problem-solving, collaboration, and communication – will grow.

It’s high time we overhaul our education and skills development sector. The alternative – millions of unemployed and unemployable people – is too frightening to contemplate.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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