How to mitigate the expected big AI job disruption in South Africa – Anne Rutledge, Resourgenix

The World Economic Forum predicts 23% of global jobs will change in the next five years due to industry transformation through artificial intelligence (AI), text, image, and voice processing technologies. In its Future of Jobs 2023 report, the WEF says integrating large language models (LLMs) and AI will present a paradigm shift. While this could lead to significant productivity gains, there is the risk of job displacement, and it could exacerbate socioeconomic disparities, which is of particular concern in South Africa. While there is generally a skills shortage in South Africa, AI will undoubtedly profoundly impact the workforce. So, how should we mitigate the risk of AI? In an interview with Biznews, Anne Rutledge, the Executive Director of Talent Solutions at Resourgenix, said South African companies are not fully ready for the AI revolution. Rutledge said that companies should take baby steps in the adoption of AI and should not automate everything at once. They should also be mindful of security risks in using AI tools. Rutledge warned against using tools like ChatGPT for CV writing and said it should only be used as a guideline. Rutledge also has advice on how the unemployed can gain AI skills and lists the functions that are in danger of being taken over by AI and the jobs and skills that will remain in demand. She says top talent is scarce in South Africa, and AI will never replace the human touch. – Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the Interview

Many companies are upskilling their workforce, recruitment industry has embraced AI

For most of the workforce, what this means to us is a concern. How do we embrace it? How do we use it? But other elements of it have helped increase productivity for people who want to upscale themselves into different products, technologies, services, and even sometimes changing careers. It’s helped. AI can help with those mundane tasks, processing, the typical admin data capturing that type of thing. You can speed it up significantly. But it does have the element of people being scared that they will be displaced from their jobs. Many organizations are starting to consider how to upskill or reskill their workforce.

From our perspective, we have embraced AI technology. We use it for our clients and other purposes, and it has made an impact. Our employees have embraced it and are looking at other opportunities because it frees up their time to do other things that are more important within the process. This helps us find the balance of where it makes sense to use it. How will it improve your operations and efficiencies? Then look at what we can do to make it even better. That is where we have come from and what we have seen with many companies.

South Africa is not fully ready for the AI revolution

I don’t know if we are ready, but we must be ready. It’s coming into the world and will not go away. It is there, and it is being utilized. It is part of our lives. If we think about the younger workforce entering the workplace, many of them have been using this technology and living in the digital age for most of their lives. If you want to attract talented people for the next generation, your company needs to be ready to adopt AI and give them opportunities to work with it.

I think that learning and development opportunities are important from an organizational perspective. Reskilling and upskilling your employees to learn different technologies and AI is crucial. Yes, you have learned and studied for one certain skill, but you can continuously improve. This requires a continuous learning mindset. So, we must be ready for it and embrace it.

Take baby steps in adopting automation while maintaining data privacy.

People don’t like change. Many people say they are open to change and good at it, but we all don’t like it deep down. So, it is important to understand how to take your employees on that journey, help them understand the change, and show them how it improves their ability to perform their duties.

It is important to take baby steps and not automate everything at once. It would be best if you also were careful about integrating automation tools and AI into your processes, as other risks are involved. Things like data privacy, the South African POPI Act, cyber attacks, and exposing your organisation to the internet all present risks. However, they also offer opportunities for reskilling and upskilling your employees.

How will you upskill your employees to understand the importance of data and data privacy? These are just a few of the elements of AI automation that you need to consider.

Writing your CV with ChatGPT – use it only as a guideline; it can be dangerous

ChatGPT has changed how things are done, but it takes away some human creativity in writing a CV. Introducing yourself from a bio is about you and how we understand you as an individual, not just about your skills. It is essential to bring your personal touch to it. That would be our advice to candidates: use ChatGPT as a guideline, not word for word.

From an AI automation perspective, the human touch will never go away. People don’t always want to chat to a chatbot or receive automated messages. They want to talk to a person. So, having a human touch is essential.

Our advice to candidates is to use ChatGPT as a guideline, not word for word. Remember that ChatGPT is being trained on data that you are putting out there. Your data privacy is not guaranteed, so you should consider it before using it.

How the recruitment industry uses AI to screen candidates to find the gems

So many tools do AI matching from a screening perspective, which is wonderful, especially when you’re doing a bulk screening of candidates when you’ve got volumes of candidates. Being able to automate specific questions when you’re screening and automate specific matching of skills makes a difference.

It makes you more efficient. It’s a time saver more than anything else. So, you can quickly screen those candidates and get the resumes out to the clients, but having those conversations with them is crucial. That screening process and that talking to people is always essential. So, one of the things we’ve also introduced is to have that initial discussion with the candidate and understand who they are. If you don’t, you lose out on talent.

Although you have AI matching your job skills to your resume and what the requirements are to your resume, you might miss out on that gem of a candidate or their talents because you haven’t spoken to the individual. Maybe they didn’t put their CV together correctly, but they are a good potential candidate. So, we make sure that, and we try and make sure that they understand the importance of that.

When setting up an AI screening process for candidates, embrace the human touch

The recruitment industry has always been under the firing line for things around people not getting back to them. They were screened even before AI. So, it’s always a topic that comes up, and we must be conscious of it. But again, it comes down to constantly reviewing what you are doing when you set up those automated questions and when you set up that screening process. 

So, review how you have set it up and the automated questions to understand that you are not out-screening people you want. You will have the individuals who know how to circumvent it, but when you start talking to them and having those conversations, you’ll quickly pick up that they circumvented the whole thing, and that’s how they came about. So again, it comes back to the human touch.

AI is here, automation is here, and technology is here; embrace it, but don’t ever think the human elements will be removed. That is such an essential piece of it. We definitely within our organization embrace that as we need to have conversations. It’s not even about the typical interview, It’s about a conversation. Who are you? What have you done? What are your skills? What are your aspirations? You know, what have you worked on? And once you start understanding that individual, that’s how you find that great talent. 

How the unemployed can get AI skills

There are a lot of learning and training organizations within South Africa that offer short courses, learnerships, and internships to try and assist in upskilling individuals and doing that. We know that with our higher unemployment rates within South Africa, providing those learnership and intern opportunities is essential. From our side, we would encourage people to look at those learning opportunities, apply to those learnerships and those internships, and embrace the ability to learn and upskill and sometimes re-skill themselves into something different. There are a lot of companies that do offer those internships throughout the whole year. There are also a lot of online courses that you can take to upskill yourself as well.

There are quite a few academies that offer affordable learning opportunities and courses that you can join, and you can upskill yourself through that. And when we talk to our candidates when they’re unemployed, it’s one of the things that we encourage them to do while they’re looking for employment: use the opportunity to upskill yourself. Join different online courses and look at different opportunities within a learning environment. There’s so much learning on YouTube, but also be careful of what you look at because it can be incorrect. So, it’s that balance of that as well.

The jobs that are at risk because of AI

We are looking at any role with similar, mundane processing types of tasks. Those are the ones that will be impacted the most because there’s a lot of automation that can be done with those jobs. Data capturing, for example, you can very easily automate the data capturing process to capture the data into it. We also use robotics process automation to do some of those mundane tasks. So, it does make a difference. If you look at some finance roles as well, there are a lot of different tools available that do some mundane tasks, as again, processing tasks like capturing your invoices, creditors, debtors, that type of thing. But it all comes down to processing elements. 

Candidates and employees need to understand what is coming, and it’s how you embrace it. Because if you can take away your data capturing, I’ll use the recruitment industry as an example. Suppose you can take away capturing a CV manually in a specific format to send to a client; that gives you more time to look for other top talents. So, how do you utilize those tools to help you to be more productive?

Jobs that are in demand in South Africa in the AI era, scarcity of top talent

In South Africa, I think we’ve got a significant demand for IT skills, technology skills, developers, DevOps, and those kinds of jobs. That leads very well into what’s happening with AI automation. Some of the other jobs in demand are legal jobs, that’s a human element. There’s always a need for chartered accountants, for financial thinking behind AI that you must look at and how you get into those roles. However, South Africa has a scarcity of skills, so we’re always looking for top IT, finance, and engineering talent. Those types of roles are scarce in South Africa, and there’s a younger generation coming in, looking at that type of thing as well.

Advice for younger people: look for a field that is automated

I think that is a difficult question to answer in a way purely because, you know, individuals have career aspirations. They’ve got things that they would like to do, like everybody when they’re growing up, I want to do this, I want to be that, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a vet, I want to be an accountant and it’s challenging to say move away from those dreams, but look at those roles and look at what is out there at the moment that is automating that has some AI into it. You know, what is the future looking like? Do your research around that and then complement what you are studying and what you are doing with that; that makes you more marketable when you do that. Because if you can understand how to bring AI and automation into your role and make it more productive, you make yourself a lot more marketable, and clients want that.

When you look at hiring companies and the companies looking at talent, they’re looking for individuals with interchangeable skills who can also re-skill and up-skill into different roles and opportunities within the organization. And I’m sure there are future jobs that we haven’t even thought about that will come down the line. For example, we never thought about using robotics process automation before, that you would have somebody behind that programming and training the RPA to do the main day tasks. So that same person who did the data capturing, for example, could be that person who’s programming that RPA to do the tasks. So, it’s just how you rethink it from a different perspective.

Softer skills have become important 

We’ve started looking at many more requirements coming through from companies about looking at software skills. Things like communication become essential. We often find between tech teams and business owners that communicating with them and understanding their requirements is essential. So, they’ve got the technical expertise, but they’ve got the need and trying to understand each other is communication. Problem-solving skills, from a soft skills perspective, are very important. The ability to analyze the issue that’s in front of you and be able to problem solve that in a critical and non-critical manner as well to get to the best answer. And then AI has brought about the ability to bring so many data points together. Yes, you can train it to analyse the data, but it can only be trained so much. You need people who can analyze data and look at predictive analytics. And what does that mean from a strategy perspective? What does that mean from a future perspective to make those decisions? How do you take your organization forward and then, as individuals from your career, take that forward as well? So those kinds of softer skills are coming through. Analytics, communication, and problem solving. We’ve seen that as more of a soft skills requirement coming through.

AI is never going to place the human element

AI will never replace humans because you’ll always need that person to review it, look at it, analyse it, and be critical about it at the end of the day and say, okay, there’s a problem here. Yes, you can train the AI a bit more, and I think that will come over time, but there will always be that human element you need and that connection. You need that human connection to come in all the time. But looking at the tools and using them to improve what you’re doing is important to understand.

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