Implications of AI in the job market


Artificial intelligence (AI), often seen as a job killer, is more accurately about job displacement and transformation than outright elimination. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Artificial intelligence (AI), often seen as a job killer, is more accurately about job displacement and transformation than outright elimination.

Throughout history, technological advancements have caused job displacement, like the agricultural revolution or the rise of computers. But these changes have also created new jobs and industries.

As jobs get augmented, amplified, and transformed, companies should create thoughtful strategies based on the emerging technology, skills and capabilities that are needed. Understanding what work will be done by digital workers, what needs to be done by human beings, and how the two will relate will be the key to maintaining a competitive edge in the marketplace of the future.

The rapid adoption of AI will naturally create a demand for jobs in that field. As companies seek ways to capitalise on the efficiencies and profitability of AI systems, they will need humans to lead the charge.

This pioneering phase will require software engineers, data scientists, and other specialised personnel. It will open up new skills employees can learn to give themselves a competitive edge. For those willing to embrace AI, the future is bright. For those in jobs AI can quickly replace, they must begin developing new skills.

For instance, repetitive tasks, by their very nature, consume a significant chunk of time and resources. They often require human intervention, prone to errors, fatigue, and inconsistency.

AI technologies excel at performing routine and repetitive tasks more efficiently than humans since they can perform these tasks tirelessly, consistently, and without the typical human-induced variations.

So, instead of replacing humans entirely, AI could automate routine tasks. Tasks that are repetitive, predictable, and data-driven are especially vulnerable. Examples include data entry, assembly line work, accountants and some aspects of transportation and customer service. As a result, this will free up workers to do more challenging and important work, allow humans to focus on higher-level skills like creativity, critical thinking, and social interaction, and create new job opportunities that require human skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and empathy. As AI creates efficiencies, it can also generate new opportunities in areas like AI development, data analysis, and managing human-AI collaboration.

The speed of AI implementation will vary across industries, giving time for adaptation and skills development. African countries and stakeholders must take a proactive approach.

Creating effective supportive policies and regulations can help cushion the impact of job displacement and support workers in transitioning to new opportunities. Investing in education and skill development by providing workers with the skills needed to thrive in the AI-powered economy is crucial.

Promoting collaborating governments, industries and educational institutions will consequently enable Africa to seize the opportunities presented by AI while addressing the challenges it poses.

Overall, AI is likely to have a significant impact on the job market, but it’s not a zero-sum game. While some jobs will be lost, others will be created, and many existing jobs will be transformed.

People will need to embrace digital and intelligent technologies to be successful in their jobs. Embracing digital and intelligent technologies does not mean that everyone must understand the mechanisms of machine learning or be able to build underlying DevOps platforms.

People simply need to understand how to use the tools and understand how AI can help them perform their work. The key to preparing for these changes is through education, training, and proactive policies.

Ms Kamau is an Associate at Ernst & Young LLP (EY). The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of EY.

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