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Columnists

What you must know about future of work

A woman working from her house
A woman working from her house. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

That the world is changing is no secret anymore. Two years ago, I wrote about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the impact it will have on our lives.

Specifically, I stated that the future of work would be different from what we know of work today.

Social media comments dismissed my predictions as daydreaming. In the article, I had predicted that in five years, technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, 5G and many others would be commonplace in our future works.

I was wrong in the sense that these technologies are now being used more widely than I had predicted.

A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) discussion concluded that the future of work is now. Globalisation, digitisation and other mega-trends are bringing radical shifts to how we live and work.

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The narrative about the emerging changes has shifted into three key areas, that is, the kind of skills we need in order to be relevant for the future of jobs, there are also issues around the quality of jobs, the support available for those unable to work, and what voice people have in shaping these outcomes.

First, the issue of skills gap exist even for current jobs. There is need to deal with the current mismatch between what students learn and what the skills employers want.

Employers are moving to the next level and are demanding future skills even before the learning institutions meet the demand for current skills.

The pace of change has morphed into a situation where emerging economies are hiring experts from outside to do local data analytic jobs when unemployment is rampant in the country.

In the past few months since the Covid-19 crisis started, every country has been modeling data to predict what may happen under different scenarios.

In other words, they have been telling people about what will happen if they failed for example, to social distance, to wear masks and other protective gear. Modelling is the outcome of big data analytics.

Similar data analytics are being done to predict the global spread of the viruses, other areas include predicting: weather patterns to decide when to plat, optimal inputs agricultural to predict yields, fraud patterns in banking, inventory requirement for optimal supply chain for Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and individual players and team performance in sports.

Opportunities in data analytics are inexhaustible but universities aren’t developing skills in data analytics.

Cities are deploying AI for cameras for facial recognition as well as installing location tracking IoT apps on smartphones to leverage the location sensing capability of the phone.

Despite their intrusiveness, these technologies, are being used in several countries for contact tracing of people suspected to have contracted the virus.

The point I am trying to emphasise here is the fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is under way even as we resist what will define the future.

Secondly, in my view, the issue of job quality will largely be determined by individual effort. The future of work is simply being the best in industry.

Good quality work is rare but demand for it is abundant. Those who live in the past will experience problems with future work.

Whereas it was possible to find a job and join the union to cover up for individual inadequacies it will not be possible in the future.

Thirdly, since these jobs will be mostly transnational, it will take time to create a voice for people to shape future outcomes.

In any case, the rapid technological changes will continue to disrupt the jobs that we know and replacing them with new ones that we don’t know to the extent that to be relevant in the future of work, one must adopt to lifelong learning.

The fourth industrial revolution has started in earnest. From big data analytics to AI and IoT, we are deep into the technology that will define the future of work.

The revolution will indeed create many jobs but those who will survive in the future of work, are those who will be globally competitive.

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