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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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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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