Relearning in uncertainty

How are South African companies transitioning workers to adapt to the changes in the workplace?

Media reports coming out of this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos revealed that Western business leaders are taking a Janus-faced stance on the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on their employees. While the public conversation was laced with concern about providing a safety net for people who are replaced by machines, behind closed doors, it appears, the talk was all about the imperative to drive automation and gain the promised cost savings and productivity wins as a matter of competitive necessity. Doing more with less is the mantra.

The question arises then, what are these business leaders doing about Gartner’s advice that companies need to reinvest a significant portion of the money they save through automation into training their people? Gartner’s point goes beyond a moral obligation to existing employees, and speaks to the historical trend that every time there’s an increase in automation, formal education needs to be extended. Take a lawyer who no longer needs to do the repetitive drudge work that a first- or second-year associate typically does, because they’ve been augmented by software that can wade through contracts and review them, freeing the humans to do more rewarding work. However, when it comes to drafting complex contracts, the human lawyer hasn’t had the hours of experience reviewing contracts to draw on, and this capability gap needs to be filled in other ways. Likewise, the call centre employee who no longer deals with the routine, day-to-day inquiries, gaining valuable basic experience, but is expected to immediately cope with more complex inquiries that machines aren’t yet able to deal with.

Read more on Brainstorm: