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The rise of gen AI: Shaping the future of work in SA

By , Regional Director for Tata Consultancy Services, South Africa.
11 Apr 2024
Langa Dube, Regional Director for Tata Consultancy Services, South Africa.
Langa Dube, Regional Director for Tata Consultancy Services, South Africa.

It’s no secret that generative AI has the potential to revolutionise life as we know it. From being adopted by people to automate mundane tasks, to solving complex problems in a fraction of the time, it could make a big difference to how people interact with the world.

One of the most significant effects of gen AI is expected to be on the global job market – with research showing AI could impact 300 million full-time jobs. But not in the sense that robots will outright replace humans - instead the nature of work is poised for redefinition, not replacement.

At its core, gen AI is the ability of machines to learn from data, and generate new content or insights based on that learning. This technology has already been applied in fields such as healthcare, finance, and transportation, and is now making its way into other sectors.

As these technologies become more proficient at performing routine tasks, they hold great potential as co-workers, enabling automation and enhancing efficiency.

Thus, it’s likely the nature of work will shift towards roles that grant individuals time for higher-value tasks, augmenting their end-to-end capabilities. For South Africans, this presents an opportunity to enhance skill sets and prepare for the jobs of the future. Consider software development, for example, the current emphasis on script writing and infrastructure provisioning will decrease as automation takes over. Programmers will instead direct their focus toward critical thinking and process planning. Today there are three phases for gen AI: Assist, Augment, and Transform. In the Assist phase, companies use AI to empower their workers to perform their jobs faster and more effectively, like in a call centre where a question comes up about a document, AI should be able to summarise the document and answer the question.

Through Augment, AI does some work by itself, supported and reviewed by a human, like helping a wealth advisor suggest better products. And finally, through Transform, AI would be able to transform products and services to create new opportunities for organisations – so they can invest in more future-proof operations.

“Integrating gen AI into the South African workplace is not just unavoidable; it's necessary,” says Langa Dube, Regional Director for Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) South Africa and Rest of Africa. “For organisations to be successful, they require continual adaptation, with the role of individuals evolving in tandem with technological advancements.” South Africans should focus on developing emotional intelligence, embrace lifelong learning, and seek out opportunities to upskill or even reskill themselves. This could involve taking courses in areas such as strategy, data science and robotics.

Local businesses also have a crucial role to play in ensuring their employees are equipped to navigate evolving job expectations.

But to fully realise these benefits, businesses must invest in development programmes that equip their employees with the skills needed to work alongside AI. This could involve providing access to online courses or offering on-the-job training.

What’s more, businesses must ensure their use of AI is ethical and transparent. This means being upfront about how the technologies are being used, and ensuring they are not furthering discrimination or putting employees at risk.

Today, some South African organisations are already seeing success using AI in various areas, such as improving business operations, understanding customers better, personalising marketing, and enhancing cybersecurity. By embracing AI, they’re also able to better develop talent and their ability to lead in competitive markets.

“The rise of gen AI is set to augment not just how businesses operate but also how they lead and innovate in a rapidly evolving world,” says Dube. “While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, there is huge potential for people to thrive in this new era. By embracing change and investing in the right skills, South Africans can position themselves for success in the years to come.”

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