The future of work: Are robots key to reducing unemployment?

19Oct 2019
The Guardian
The future of work: Are robots key to reducing unemployment?

With the rise of robots, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), the employees of today are in panic mode about the state of their future career prospects. Will they have a job in 20 years’ time… ten years’ time… or even next year?

New technology continues to burst out daily to change the way we work and, on the surface, this automation of processes previously done by human hands would seem to present companies with the opportunity to downsize.

The spectre of an apocalyptic, dwindling future workforce is naturally terrifying for most people, especially in Africa, which is traditionally manpower-centric. However, the reality is that these super-intelligent machines and robots might well be doing humankind a massive favour.

“Machine learning will enable technology to replace the work of hands and the workplace of the future will probably include much more head-work, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that machines will reduce the number of jobs available,” says Deseré Orrill, Chairman of OLE!CONNECT, a company that is a pioneer in the field of personalised, data-led marketing.

“They will change the way we work and the definition of what ‘work’ is,” he added.

Orrill, a successful global entrepreneur, is lined up to deliver the welcome address and chair the Future of Work session at AfricaCom 2019 on November 13.

He will also moderate the discussion on Creating a Culture of Lifelong Learning, an issue that is crucial to Africa’s harnessing of its human potential.

The panel will share insights into how education and reskilling are decisive if Africa is to make the most of its human capital, as well as the importance of ensuring effective lifelong learning in the modern economy.

Future of Work @ AfricaCom 2019 will seek to unpack a wide range of issues at the top of the agenda for business owners and industry leaders.

In the African context, this includes coming to grips with digital literacy for the modern workforce, building a solid talent pipeline and succession planning through reskilling, as well as strategic workforce planning to harness AI in order to improve organisations and their employees.

However, it’s not just employees who face challenges in the new workplace frontier. Employers have to get a handle on issues such as understanding what the future of work means for employees AND themselves, how to achieve executive support for new workplace initiatives, and how technology can play a game-defining role in human resources.

The battle between old school and new school has plenty of spark points in the modern work environment. Business leaders will benefit from the discussion about harnessing workplace technologies as well as using design thinking to create an integrated digital workplace.

Discussions and presentations will include Leveraging New Ways of Working to Create Sustained Results in Africa as well Closing the Skills Gap: Preparing for an Uncertain Future.

Humans in the workplace complete tasks with hands and heads but, also with heart. Orrill highlights the fact that AI and ML cannot replicate human creativity, sensitivity and sensibility, which are essential ingredients in all creative and caring professions along with those where human intuition and the fabled ‘sixth sense’ play a role.

“These functions and skills just can’t be replaced by machines, although machines and AI can certainly offer incredible support to the humans involved in these professions,” says Orrill, adding: “We also believe robots and automation will contribute to the creation of positive, dynamic and fluid workplaces of the future.”

He elaborates: “In fact, in advanced economies where greater use of robotics, automation and AI is prevalent, unemployment today is at the lowest it has been in decades. So, the future of work is not a gloomy wasteland… on the contrary, it’s a bright and promising place.”

AfricaCom is part of the Connecting Africa series of events that expose delegates, the media and the savvy to the latest advancements and opportunities in technology and the digital ecosystem.

Taking place in Cape Town from November 12 to 14, AfricaCom is Africa’s largest technology, media and telecommunications conference & exhibition.

The conference programme covers the most strategic issues affecting companies in Africa’s digital market – services, efficiency, profitability, customer experience, partnerships, policy and more.