Accenture executive calls for skill-development to tackle AI threat

18 April 2018 Authored by Consultancy.co.za

While the world worries about the threat to jobs from artificial intelligence (AI), Accenture’s solution is simple; create a collaborative scenario where people and robots work together. According to Dr. Roze Phillips of Accenture in Africa, skill-training in collaborative functioning could save as many as 1 million South African jobs by 2025.

The speed of advancement in the AI domain has raised eyebrows across the globe. Businesses are rushing to understand the true range of its applications and the extent to which they can benefit from it, while employees across the globe are afraid for their jobs, as machine learning inches closer to replacing jobs in the lowest tiers of a business structure.

However, there are two schools of thought surrounding the AI phenomenon. The first reinforces the concern amongst employees, professing that AI will replace an increasing number of jobs over the next decade, particularly those that are termed as ‘manual or simple.’

The other school of thought allows for a glimmer of hope, arguing that AI will continue to need human supervision and control, which creates a whole new segment of jobs that require a unique set of skills. Therefore, while workers might still be at risk of losing their current job, tweaking their skillset could qualify them for a job in the new paradigm.

According to Dr. Roze Philips, who is the Managing Director for Accenture Consulting in Africa, this is the category of jobs that South Africa needs to harness in order to keep its workforce safer over the next decade. To set the context, nearly 6 million jobs are expected to be lost to automation in South Africa by 2025.

Accenture executive calls for skill-development to tackle AI threat

“With the threat of automation growing, South Africa is less prepared than other countries and needs to give its workforce skills to participate in the digital economy. In a country with a staggering 27.7% unemployment and jobless youths making up 75% of unemployment, the future looks bleak,” said Phillips at a seminar at the University of Stellenbosh Business School.

Phillips, who is an alumna of the same university, is a specialist management consultant with nearly two decades of experience at Accenture, having risen through the ranks of Senior Executive and Human Capital Lead for Spain, Portugal, Africa and Israel to her current position as Managing Director and Management Consulting Lead for all of Africa.

As per her analysis, the key lies in skill-training: “Our research shows that if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration, it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 3.5 million (20%) in 2025 to just 2.5 million.”

In essence, jobs that aren't a hybrid between human skills and AI will disappear completely in the digital domain. She equates this to outsourcing, in a way, wherein jobs are delegated to a machine rather than labour in a foreign country, in which case they are unlikely to be of any relevance again.

Nevertheless, Phillips assures that this hybrid pool of jobs will certainly emerge, adding that “Machines do not consume things and whilst they can replace human work, they do not drive purchasing behaviour or contribute to GDP. Society will regress if humans can’t work, earn and spend. South Africa needs to learn how to ‘run with machines’.”

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