Preparing the next generation for AI and the digital world of work.

Preparing the next generation for AI and the digital world of work.

With the rapid growth of technology and the looming presence of the 4th Industrial revolution, the workers and employees of tomorrow will need to make AI more than a simple tool. AI will be their assistant, their co-worker and possibly even their manager.

Artificial Intelligence will be an everyday part of their lives. So it is vital that this generation of employee learns to use AI and Big data as effectively as possible. This process needs to begin sooner rather than later.

Preparations must be made to prevent businesses and people entering the workforce from falling behind industry trends. With proper training comes better understanding of these platforms. What are their weaknesses, limitations and their strengths?

This new generation must come to understand that AI and their abilities as employees benefit one another. There must be emphasis on the qualities that differentiate the two from one another. Such as human creativity, adaptability and interpersonal skills versus AI’s impressive response time and handling of large data streams.

While there must be consideration given to elementary and secondary education, the tertiary education sector is where this type of training is most important. Providing education into problem solving and ethics. With the introduction of AI systems, many new ethical dilemmas present themselves: From excluding prejudices based on race, gender and sexual orientation; to influencing automated decision making; to how a self-driving car balances the lives of its occupants with those of pedestrians.

The world needs well trained people and programmers who can make thoughtful contributions to these decision-making processes. We need to take the youth who are preparing to enter the world of work and ensure that they are prepared for what AI and Big data means for businesses. Hurdles that obstruct this process are lack of funding for computer programmes in the majority of schools, as well as a shortage of teachers with experience in computers sciences.

Some are calling on tech companies to compensate for this lack of governmental capacity. To begin investing into the next generation to enable them to understand and interact with the new tech environment. Within a few years their investment would pay off for them in providing a trained and tech savvy batch of new hires. We must begin this process of investing in the next generation as soon as possible. It will benefit not only them, but will pay off for all

Machine Learning: An Emerging Career Field in South Africa

Machine Learning: An Emerging Career Field in South Africa

Artificial Intelligence as a whole is fast growing  and, in that space, Machine Learning as a career is booming.  

Today, companies collect huge amounts of data, especially about their customers. Machine Learning takes that information, analysis it with the help of computer algorithm to make data-driven recommendations and decisions. The data could be text based but also location, image or voice based. Whenever Google, YouTube, Netflix or Amazon recommend you something, they use Machine Learning. 

Behind this technology are people who can build, repair and maintain these systems. Demand for them is at an all-time high.  Where a data scientist will analyze collected data to identify valuable, actionable insights from a database, a machine learning engineer will design the self-running software that makes use of that data and automates predictive models. 

Since machine learning engineers sit between different disciplines of IT, when trained correctly, they have a foundational knowledge in software engineering principles which is combined with data science in order to produce models that become valuable software. This means that machine learning engineers need to have a slate of skills that span both data science and software engineering.  

This post looks at what essential skills every Machine Learning engineer will need for success in their career field.   

Technical skills needed:  

  • Software engineering skills. Some of the computer science fundamentals that machine learning engineering rely on writing algorithms that can search, sort, and optimize; familiarity with approximate algorithms.  
  • Data science skills. Some of the data science fundamentals that machine learning engineers rely on include familiarity with programming languages such as Python, SQL, and Java.  
  • Advanced machine learning skills. Many machine learning engineers are also trained in deep learning, dynamic programming, neural network architectures.  

Soft Skills needed:  

  • Communication skills 
  • Problem-solving skills 
  • Time management 
  • Teamwork 
  • Thirst for learning 

Now let’s take a look at the kind of tools that your typical machine learning engineer would use. Amongst the programming languages used are Python and SQL.  

South Africa is making efforts to stay at the forefront of developments in Machine Learning, as well as working to solve some of the challenges that we face in this space. 

One of the local drivers of change in the industry is Mr Vukosi Marivate, the Chair of Data Science at the University of Pretoria and co-founder of the Deep Learning Indaba. Marivate has been working on projects to improve tools for and availability of data for local languages. 

Its purpose is to monitor and analyze the use of African languages. The goal is to train AI to convert English to African languages and vice versa more successfully and accurately, as well as using this AI in other ways to make the internet as a whole more accessible to African language speakers.  

In 2013, a local group of industry practitioners and researchers began Data Science Africa, an annual workshop for sharing resources and ideas.  

The shift to making Africa a location and participant in AI conversation is a positive one and will ensure that local content and languages are considered and job opportunities created in this dynamic space.  

Managing people in the new normal

Managing people in the new normal

Stefan Lauber, CEO of iFundi

Revolutions erupt suddenly. The 4th Industrial Revolution just hit us. As the world responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses were forced to pivot into the cloud. What years of deliberation could not achieve, materialised in a few weeks, much faster than anyone could have imagined.

Many of the predicted consequences of the 4th industrial revolution have become true:

  • Companies without digital delivery channels are facing ruin
  • Unemployment has sky-rocketed even in healthy economies
  • Lower skilled workers have been affected particularly hard
  • Workplace and employment relations have irreversibly changed
  • Social inequalities are more pronounced than ever
  • Uncertainty about the future remains

How will this impact on the way people are managed in companies? We do not really know what the future holds. But four issues currently stand out:

  1. The New Workplace
  2. Developing Critical Skills
  3. Leading People
  4. A New Social Contract
  • The New Workplace

Until now, few employers believed that their staff could be trusted to work from home. Covid-19 proved that it is possible.

Free from the need to commute, employees are saving time and money, lowering the burden on the environment. With less distractions from their colleagues, staff can focus better on their work. Online meetings are at least as productive. Employees enjoy more flexibility while working from home, which should allow them to better balance personal affairs and work.

Yet, for some, the workday never ends. Unfortunately, not everyone rose to the challenge of working from home equally well. The promise of working remotely has often been undermined by poor connectivity. We miss social interaction with our colleagues, the conversations over coffee that spark new ideas and give us a sense of belonging.

The future may be a combination of working between office and home. Companies will have to develop new human resource policies that take advantage of the benefits of working from home while mitigating its disadvantages.

When people work remotely, less office space is required. The purpose of an office used to be to accommodate staff. The office of tomorrow will look different. It will seek to compensate for the drawbacks of working from home. The emphasis may be on how to facilitate better communication, collaboration, community and strengthening company culture. 

As the economic crisis will continue, companies need to be nimbler and reduce fixed costs. Non-core function may well be further outsourced. Companies are expected to continue reduce headcount and engage contractors when needed. The gig economy is here. With large scale retrenchments, employees will have to reinvent themselves to become entrepreneurs.

  • Developing Critical Skills

It has been predicted that every second person will have to be retrained to keep up with the 4th Industrial Revolution. As the pandemic has been rapidly changing our lives, we require new skills faster.

Of course, new technical skills, especially IT, are essential when going digital. Covid-19 is forcing managers to adapt their style. Individuals need more resilience, adapt to change quicker, be even more innovative, and solve bigger problems.

Critically, employees will need to manage themselves, with less support from their peers and less chances to learn from others.

The deck is stacked against newcomers. Our educational systems already struggle to produce the kind of people businesses need.  Making things worse, training budgets of companies are strained.

As the pressure mounts, companies will be looking for people who can hit the ground running. However, there will simply not be enough people with tomorrows skills. Companies will have to grow their own talent.

Google has introduced training that leads to career certificates. The private sector is getting involved in the production of talent. Work Integrated Learning such as learnerships, internship and apprenticeship programme are on the leading edge.

What matters in future are not degrees, but practical skills. But how will we recognise what people know? Portfolios of Evidence and Qualification Frameworks will gain in currency and so will product certification by vendors. They are already the norm in the IT industry.

Online learning used to be resisted. Covid-19 forced schools to go online without preparation. Until recently, eLearning was mostly one-way, a tool to present content. Thanks to the rapid adoption of video conferencing, it has become much more participatory.

  • Leading people

Monitoring Time and Attendance was a central component of how companies controlled their people.  How will companies manage their people when they do not need to show up at work.

Managers will have to learn how to manage their teams virtually and use technology to collaborate more effectively.

Performance management will become even more important. Rather than working from general job descriptions, employees and contractors will be held accountable for clearly defined outcomes.

A manager will still have to plan, effectively delegate and monitor delivery. But they will also need to lead, motivate their staff and provide emotional support in times of crisis. Transactional leadership is dead.

By the way, we are now no longer dealing with resources but real people. Compassion is going to be part of our discourse. The focus of human resource managers was a company’s employees. Going forward, the whole ecosystem of people – staff, contractors and suppliers will be considered by the people manager. As companies become leaner, partnership become more important, team members will belong to multiple organisations.

Occupational health and wellness in many industries were an afterthought. We have since learned that health issues can not only bring companies, but the whole world to its knees. The threat of future pandemics is not going away. With never abating pressures, emotional health and wellness are going to receive more attention.  

  • A New Social Contract

During the lockdown, the Gross Domestic Product of many countries shrank by more than 10%. Millions of people have joined the ranks of the unemployed. It will take many years to recover.

But more than ever, we have realised that we are interdependent. One person’s lack of care threatens all our health. Individualism, the believe in the survival of the fittest, is an outdated concept.

Governments were trying to find the middle ground of how to protect lives and livelihoods. During the lockdown, there was a clear shift in focus from profits to people – something that would have been untenable before.

We have experienced a fundamental shift to a more caring paradigm.  Companies will continue to protect their staff. Job creation will be everyone’s concern. There will be no consumers if people are destitute. We will not be able to trade or survive while environmental catastrophes engulf us.

The new normal demands a new social contract. One in which people and the planet will prosper. In as much as the 4th Industrial Revolution called for technological change, we need also social innovation.

2020 was the year of disruption. Let the pain we endured become the catalyst for progress. Let us not slide back to where we came from but instead create a new normal that is better than the past. If not, the danger is that nature will catch up with us again, as a single virus has just done.

This article was published in Fast Company magazine, November 2020 edition

The Importance of IT Support for Business

The Importance of IT Support for Business

The need for businesses to constantly adapt and change has been present for many years and typically the successful businesses have been those that became used to adapting to change in their environment and continuously monitored competitors and trends to remain relevant.

Keeping up with technological trends and updates can be tough, especially in between managing your business and catering to clients. Once you start to adapt, it can be difficult to maintain it.

Having a team within the business that’s dedicated to IT support ensure that your business functions smoothly by immediately making repairs to your systems or identifying potential issues before they arise.

In addition to safeguarding your operations, a reliable IT support team keeps your business competitive and helps develop more streamlined operations. This leads to higher productivity for your business and more room for increased revenue.

It has been shown time and time again that customers prefer businesses with efficient and reliable systems and platforms. If a business is still using outdated and ineffective technology in their Products or services then they are bound to lose customers.

Let’s take a look at the main benefits of having an effective in-house IT Tech support team:

  • Effective Management of Data

Data management is necessary for any business. With Product inventory, incoming orders, unique customer data, and other important information should always be stored and managed efficiently and safely. With the help of a IT support team, managing your data becomes a streamlined process that can otherwise become very time consuming.

  • Improvements in decision making.

Some of the most important decisions within the business will be based on data backed insights. By conducting solid research and planning to gather useful data your team will need to use various technologies and tools to gather and store this data.

  • Expertise to solve technical problems

Errors and technical glitches are inevitable when it comes to using technology. Even in its most up to date version, a software can still encounter troubles along the way. If software essential to your business runs into an issue, it could spell disaster for your day-to-day operations. This is where an IT tech support team can help. They can save you valuable hours, instead of looking for online solutions for the fix, they’ll handle it for you as they are equipped with the expertise and ready solutions.

  • Extensive monitoring and analysis

Monitoring at every stage of the business is critical to success. Being bale to keep tabs on all internal operations and through analysis work towards the business objectives. The value of an IT support team is that they improve your overall quality control and internal auditing. As they are closely monitoring your systems and website, downtime is prevented or recovered immediately, minimising possible profit loss.

  • Top quality security and cyber security

As we have seen in the past with companies like Facebook it can be disastrous if your customer’s personal data is compromised or if any confidential technologies you have are jeopardised. IT support teams guarantee that your business’ online front and computer systems are secure from viruses and other online threats. They protect these by setting up antivirus systems, encrypting your data, and providing other security measures.

  • Top quality customer support

A major benefit of the IT tech support team is providing an improved customer support experience. With rapid response a customer’s query can be handled in a fast and professional manner. The support team can setup multiple channels such as phone calls, emails, social media bots, or even automated answers in your website. If you’re able to answer their queries immediately and on point, customer satisfaction goes up.

The IT technical support team is one that many businesses overlook the importance of, however having looked at the benefits they bring to a business and their operations, having an in-house Support team can be a big advantage to your operations. In this fast paced-world of today customers want responsiveness and effectiveness in their communications with businesses when facing issues.

Put your best foot forward so to speak and allow change for the benefit of customers and for the sake of your businesses future.

How to Become a Front-Runner in the Race for Talented Project Managers

How to Become a Front-Runner in the Race for Talented Project Managers

As a result of digitization and growth in global economies the demand for skilled project managers is expected to rise significantly. While this is projected to occur we have also been seeing downward trends in the amount of skilled project managers to meet the demand.

The talent crisis is real and organisations most valuable projects are at risk, it’s time to make talent acquisition and closing of the talent gap a strategic priority.

The talent gap is being worsened by the post- pandemic ‘Great Resignation,’ which has seen workers quitting their jobs in droves all over the world, and it seems that the situation will only get tougher.

Hiring managers within businesses find it easier to recruit people with critical project skills who are more successful at up skilling themselves for success. Their shown preference is candidates who show potential, have adequate levels of training and hold a whole host of diverse skills.

These are known as “Front-runners”

Front-runners are also shown to have have performed much better in terms of: revenue growth; customer acquisition and customer satisfaction. Making them invaluable to growing organisations.

They are no longer creatures of only scope, schedule, and budget. They are now – enabled by new technology – focusing on influencing outcomes, building relationships, and achieving the strategic goals set by the organizations.

In research conducted by PWC in 2021 the top skill identified by recruiters that many project managers lack is creative-problem solving. This skill is identified through questioning of high level managers to be the one sore spot in experienced project managers within organisations.

This is important to not as the project managers in training can take note of where their focus should lie.

The training of these roles is vital to their candidate’s success, because If capabilities aren’t aligned to organizational strategy. Then building up of staff isn’t going to get the attention it deserves. That’s why the number one barrier to developing project manager capabilities is that learning and development isn’t seen as priority.

This problem can be made even worse by the need to operate in a remote working capacity where many front runners are not able to develop power skills and business acumen skills while operating in a remote capacity.

What can we learn from this? Priority with organisational development and the successful training of the next generation of project managers must begin today. Prioritization must be placed on developing the right skills and mending skill gaps in their established work force.

All this together will allow for the role of Project manager to flourish and the front runners to set themselves apart in their career aspirations.