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Career disruption is real

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Technology is reinventing how we live our lives, and while it me seem like another trend, MARTIN PIENAAR, COO at Mindworx Consulting, cautions every employer and employee to take note that this is a real thing and it is likely to eliminate 60% of the jobs we know today.

Everyone is talking about disruption and disruptors and how technology is reinventing how we live our lives at home and work. And while it may seem like just another trend or catchy business phrase, I caution every employer and employee to take note: this is a real thing! Exponential technologies are likely to eliminate 60% of the jobs we know today and if you don’t get to grips with what this means for your company and how you work, you’re not guaranteed of work in the future – which is closer than you think.

The next industrial revolution is here

Not for the first time are we experiencing a revolution that is threatening jobs and disrupting industries. Just think agricultural revolution, industrial revolution and even more recently in the technology age, how word processors obliterated the typing pool.

The next industrial revolution is here. People connected in real time by mobile phones and billions of connected sensors, are resulting in a revolution driving efficiency and productivity. Devices are getting cheaper, more powerful and more efficient which is pushing the internet into the industrial world. In this world, capital expenditure is giving way to monthly operating costs, where for example, the low cost of cloud computing allows for the growth of greenfields organisations which means more entrepreneurship and resultant innovation.

Companies need to gallup with technology

In this tech-era, companies should measure themselves on their responsiveness, not just the traditional assets and regulatory frameworks that have secured their success in the past.

Competitors of the future will likely not be the same as the past, and they will be faster, cheaper and do it better than you can. There is not an industry unaffected.

Employees need to reinvent themselves too

It’s highly unlikely that businesses of the future will insource all functions. The business model is likely to be a mix of own and outsourced pieces and “employees” will need skills in managing outsourced relationships.

“On-demand” skills must be mixed with full time teams in order to allow companies to rapidly scale up and down based on innovation cycles, but also to ensure they’re constantly resourced with current and best-of-breed skills. In order to stay competitive, companies will need to ensure that their permanent employees stay current too.

Over 53 million Americans are already participating in the part time, “gig” or “on-demand” economy. We expect this to grow over time.

Websites like Freelancer and Upwork (which is not yet active in South Africa) have allowed employers to find skills more easily. These trends will continue. In fact over the decade ending in 2015, the only net growth in staffing in the US market was in the “gig” economy, primarily Uber drivers.

Reskilling for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence/machine learning, big data, virtual and augmented reality, blockchain, robotics and the internet of things will soon be essential. Many of these technologies are coming out of a deceptive phase and becoming disruptive in the unlikeliest of industries. Robots are advising financial services clients, virtual reality is being used to solve pain issues in the medical realm and driverless cars have completed many millions of kilometers in California and Texas.

21st century skills are not about reading, writing and arithmetic

Companies and individuals who want to stay relevant will need to be up to date and competent in many of these technologies. If we carry on providing “broadcast” education rather than training for the attributes required in the 21st century, we are doing our youth, and ourselves, a disservice as they will be incompetent to cope in the workplace.

The qualities of curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness are the basic foundational requirements for success in the new world of work.

And cross-team collaboration, creative thinking and prototyping are going to be the key attributes in a high-speed world.

And when you think that people are also starting to live longer – the current mean lifespan of 67 could well start to reach 100 over the next 2 decades – workers may be forced to work for longer and have to stay up to date with technology changes too.

The good news is that significant opportunities exist to grow skills outside of schools and universities, with massive online open courses (MOOCs) being offered by organisations like MIT, Coursera and iTunesU.

Real proof of a real change

Just in case you’re still not convinced that the disruption trend is here to stay, and will have a significant impact on the world of work, consider the following…

Business messaging service Slack is working on bots that will replace managers’ roles to get updates, follow up on tasks and send information to others. This type of technology will start to erode the roles of middle managers. Expect big improvements in productivity.

Airbnb has bought a blockchain company. The reason is to build a digital reputation system, which makes ratings immutable and could be used on the site to access premium properties, or elsewhere as a form of digital ID (not unlike a credit rating). It’s early days yet, but one gets a sense of how this technology will be used in future.

Many new industries will use people initially, but automate tasks as technology matures. An example is Uber and Lyft investing in self driving cars, Airbnb looking to unlock doors to rented homes using a mobile app (as against a person playing the key giver role), and online concierge services using artificial intelligence to replace humans.

We are living in very exciting times, but they are scary times for those who are not investing in their skills. Short term shedding of jobs is inevitable so standing still it just not an option when it comes to upskilling. But there are lots of new opportunities being created also. Think about how Airbnb and Uber have absorbed excess capacity; imagine when excess human capacity can be economically harnessed, it will create exciting new markets. I hope you’ll be ready.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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