By Matthew Kibby, Vice-President – Enterprise Africa & Middle East at Sage
News of the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to take over jobs and replace humans in the workplace has dominated the headlines in recent years. The World Economic Forum predicts that five million jobs will be lost by 2020 as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to transform labour markets, while the McKinsey Global Institute expects automation to impact up to 160 million women globally, who may need to transition between occupations by 2030.
Most of the ‘casualties’ will be repetitive manufacturing tasks and those considered dangerous for humans to perform. Robots can do these jobs faster and with greater precision than humans could ever hope to achieve, leading to higher productivity and lower costs – the Holy Grail of manufacturing.
However, we’ll still need humans to operate these machines, to programme them and tell them what to do.
We’ll need humans to create smarter, better robots to make sense of the data that the machines churn out. The factory of the future can’t operate without humans. Instead, it will be a safer, more efficient space where machines augment the abilities and skills of people to increase output, and reduce human error and injury.
Where does that leave the rest of us who didn’t study robotics and don’t know how to code?
Ironically, if anything, we’re being forced to become more human, to embrace the skills and attributes that robots are not yet able to replicate or do better than us. As more robots enter the workplace, people will crave face-to-face interaction, authenticity and human connection more than ever.
While we leave the repetitive, time-consuming back-office jobs to the machines, human employees will be able to focus on core tasks, such as customer experience and social interaction.
Managers will have more time to interact productively with team members. Colleagues will have more time to speak to customers and comprehend their needs. HR will have more time to upskill team members rather than spending hours on tedious but essential onboarding and payroll processes. Moreover, when we understand and can relate to each other better, we come up with new solutions, new products and better ways of doing things. We create and innovate.
This means that skills like communication, emotional intelligence, strategy, people management, stakeholder interactions, leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship, analysis and decision-making will be more in demand across all industries.
Leading by example, the UAE government has taken a proactive step to stay ahead of the times. In 2017, the UAE became the first nation with a minister in the Cabinet dedicated to AI and launched a national strategy for AI.
We all have a role to play in making the future of work, well, work.
Governments, organisations and individuals will need to adopt a culture of learning and upskilling. People in low-skilled or back-office positions will need to be retrained and equipped with future-proof skills, such as emotional intelligence – a highly sought-after soft skill.
The onus will be on us as individuals to grab every opportunity we can to learn and develop our skills. Freedom to choose is another trait the machines can’t take away from us – and we all need to choose to be proactive, to seek out free online learning, to make ourselves indispensable.
The reality is that automation is going to impact every job in some way. Impact, not replace. That impact will be the ability to do our jobs better and faster, taking away the rising epidemic of ‘busyness’, and giving us more time to grow and to find that elusive work-life balance. More time to be more human.
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