We need to start developing policy and a national shared purpose around how to retrain or upskill current employees who work in jobs that may change or disappear rapidly due to technology
Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital transformation issues facing the country could become threats, leading to increased social and economic difficulties and a strain on government resources unless they are immediately addressed, according to TechLeaders.
The group, set up with the support of NZTech, is composed of Kiwi tech, digital and ICT focused-executives from leading organisations.
“Automation will change just about every industry in New Zealand and over the next few years rapidly change the number and type of jobs available. If we act now to prepare the New Zealand workforce for these changes it may provide opportunities,” says NZTech CEO Graeme Muller.
“If left unaddressed, these opportunities will turn to challenges and potential threats leading to increased social and economic difficulties and a strain on government resources," says Muller, in a statement.
The group recently discussed how they can help prepare New Zealand’s future workforce.
“We all agree that tech leaders and industry have a role and responsibility to guide and support initiatives to retrain people for the new skills paradigm brought on by technological change. The development of the next generation of workers is also critical,” says David Kennedy, chair of TechLeaders and CIO of Transaction Services Group.
Their recommendations include working with government to help reshape the national conversation away from the robots are taking my jobs to a more positive view that encourages upskilling.
“We need to ensure that our education system is developing the skills needed for a future workforce, in particular, an understanding of digital technologies and collaborative working practices,” says Muller.
“We need to start developing policy and a national shared purpose around how to retrain or upskill current employees who work in jobs that may change or disappear rapidly due to technology.
“Through the discussion a number of ways were identified where technology leaders and industry could play an active role in helping secure the future of work for Kiwis.
“We must bring a stronger connection with education to help prepare students, support teachers and support the introduction of the new digital technology curriculum.
The development of the next generation of workers is also critical
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Meanwhile, Gartner research director Helen Poitevin says now is the time for business and technology leaders to influence the long-term direction of AI.
AI can help enrich people's jobs, reimagine old tasks, design new occupations and create new industries, she says. “AI can handle patterns it has already seen, but it's humans who break new ground.”
Gartner's latest global survey of more than 3000 CIOs shows that a wide range of companies have begun AI initiatives. Twenty-five percent of organisations have deployed AI or are making short-term plans for its deployment. This is up from 10 per cent in 2015.
Gartner forecasts that AI will lead to US$200 billion in new revenue and 768,000 new positions in 2018. While in most cases, savings and efficiencies resulting from the use of AI will improve productivity, 943,000 jobs will be eliminated in the same year.
"However, there will be a transition period through to 2020, when AI will create 2.3 million jobs and eliminate only 1.8 million jobs," says Poitevin.
Moderately skilled occupations, for which training is received "on the job," will bear the brunt of the job losses. AI will, however, create millions of new highly skilled positions, managerial positions, and even entry-level and low-skilled positions.
The cooperation of human capabilities and AI is most apparent in healthcare and retail, notes Gartner.
In the healthcare sector, AI excels at using very large amounts of data which could decrease the cost of diagnostics and increase the demand in the market for this kind of service. As a result, AI would create new jobs in the sector.
In the retail sector, an online shopping company exemplifies human-AI symbiosis. It uses AI to narrow its huge selection of clothes to suit customers' preferences, but has human designers make the final choices. The company has created 65 data scientist positions and retains thousands of designers.
By undertaking routine tasks, AI gives employees more time to be productive and creative by doing what humans do best, says Poitevin.
Magnus Revang, research director at Gartner adds: "Now is the time for experimentation and proofs of concept...There are no best practices, only emerging practices."
He points out AI projects, like any others, may under-deliver, stall or fail if businesses ignore AI.
“There is a is a high risk of becoming uncompetitive, or even obsolete."
What CIOs need most is practical experience, says Revang. "They must also evaluate and understand vendors’ claims that are inflating expectations of what AI is capable of doing."
He advises CIOs to consider three issues: How AI could augment their company's existing services; how they could change their company's existing services to suit AI; and what new services they could create that would be impossible without AI.
If left unaddressed, these opportunities will turn to challenges and potential threats leading to increased social and economic difficulties and a strain on government resources.
He says some organisations have already had some success using AI to enhance their existing services.
A patent office in Australia, for instance, uses AI to classify all its patents, to ensure they go to the right specialists for review. Its AI system, which was made by graduate students and uses readily available cloud-hosted services, not only saves on personnel, but significantly shortens the time taken to process patents.
"This example demonstrates how AI can have a high impact even at relatively low levels of investment, if applied to the right cases with the right skill set," says Revang. "In fact, in this case the biggest hurdles were the integration architecture and security policies, not the AI technology."
Other organisations have created new services that were made possible only by the use of AI.
"To do this, these organisations first embraced the fact that every company is an IT company, and understood that they needed to become not only a software company, but a hardware company," says Revang. One example is an office supply company that uses an intelligent, voice-driven interface to reorder office supplies with minimal human interaction.
"Overall, AI helps organisations relieve some of the burden on the back office. It also helps them power the front office with applications such as virtual personal assistants that respond positively to the increasing needs of customers and free up customer support staff to provide higher-level support for more complex needs and requests," says Revang.
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