The future of work as made famous by the Davos-based World Economic Forum describes the changing patterns of work in which technology leads. In a February 18, 2021 report, Mckinsey revealed that the future of work has been facilitated by the pandemic accelerating existing trends in remote work, e-commerce and automation with up to 25% of workers in need to constantly switch occupations. This view was echoed by panelists in an online Summit organized by Strathmore University in partnership with the Pezetu on June 23rd 2021 where they all agreed that Covid-19 has made humanity arrive to the future 16 years before time. The conversation around the future of work in relation to technology always comes with more questions than answers; how will it look like? what will happen 10 years from now when machines grab jobs that traditionally thought of as elitist and can only be performed by humans? What is the human cost to this pattern?
Kenya’s ICT Minister Joe Mucheru has some of the answers. During the Summit, Joe described the concerns around artificial intelligence as a “hype” and that machine intelligence existed to bring importance to human intelligence. In response to what would happen 10 years from now, Strathmore University’s Vice Chancellor, Vincent Ogutu declared he had already arrived in the future sooner than expected due to his personal taste for tech-based disruptions. The much-admired VC revealed that he did not have any traditional files in his office but in the cloud. He went on to stress that as much as there was a need to focus on technology, there is a human side to the future of work. For him, communication and emotional intelligence were some of the skills of the future. For Joe Mucheru, although “AI will play a greater role in our future, there are things that machines cannot and will not do. These are the skills we want to do; emotional intelligence, networking, social connection, creativity and innovation.”
Future of Work and Poverty Alleviation
At Tedi Africa, we integrate technology in every endeavor we pursue because we understand that the future of work is tech heavy. As Joe Mucheru discussed, the link between future of work and poverty is clear; unemployment as a result of machines taking over of human jobs is a reality. The Minister said that Kenya received an estimated 1 million people annually who were job ready with an unemployment rate of about 35%. This group consists of young Kenyans whose future is under threat by tech-led future of work. Kenya, the Minister shared, led in the Fourth Industrial Revolution with programs such as Ajira, the White Box, the Presidential Digital Program among others preparing the youth for the digital revolution. The Ajira program in particular, aligns Kenyans with the opportunities in the gig economy enabling Kenyans to take part in the global job marketplace.
However, we know for sure that most of the global south does not look prepared for the future of work. The World Bank talks about the learning poverty and digital poverty in which access to education even before the pandemic was difficult as most schools lack digital access. It is this reality that pushes each one of us to ensure that we undertake interventions that provide technology to the fore. However, interventions like these won’t be enough. Personal drive and curiosity to learn and pursue self-education matter.