Preparing for the future workplace

Research shows that even though tech-related skills are essential, soft skills will still be required in the fourth industrial revolution.
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Human resources experts agree that more than one-third of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will change in merely five years from now.

The World Economic Forum predicts these changes could lead to job losses in excess of 7.1 million jobs. At biggest risk are the routine white-collar office functions and administrative roles.

On a more positive note, the World Economic Forum also predicts there could be a total gain of two million jobs in the computer, mathematical, architecture and engineering related fields.

Panel at the SAICSIT conference

The future workplace was discussed by a panel of academics at the South African Institute for Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT) conference, which took place at Nombolo Mdluli Conference Centre, Skukuza, in September.

SAICSIT is a prominent local association supporting education, training and research in computing and IT. The first SAICSIT conference was held in 1979. This year was a very special occasion as it celebrated 40 years since the first SAICSIT conference.

As the panel organiser and moderator, I explored the issue with four outstanding computing and IT scholars on the panel.

The panel included:

  • Robert Winter, professor of business and information systems engineering at the University of St Gallen, and director of its Institute of Information Management.
  • Paula Kotzé, extraordinary professor at the Department of Informatics at the University of Pretoria and adjunct professor in the School of ICT at Nelson Mandela University.
  • Judith Bishop, extraordinary professor, Computer Science.
  • Kirstin Krauss, professor, School of Computing, University of South Africa.

Kotzé led the debate on the future of work and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Reflecting on teaching and learning in especially the user experience or human-computer interaction field, she noted “it feels as if someone pulled the rug from under your feet and you have to start thinking creatively now about how you are teaching IT and how you prepare your students for when they move forward into the workplace.

If you look at it carefully, 4IR will require an almost 50-50 hard-soft skill set.

“This does not only apply to the principles we teach or research, but also the tools and techniques used.

“For example, just 10 years ago, it would have been strange for a university to have a design laboratory and promote creativity. Now almost all of them have design laboratories.”

The Future of Jobs Report

The panel members also briefly discussed the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report (2018).

The report makes a prediction of the top 10 skills, based the O*NET skills content model, that will be in demand in 2022, and implicitly 4IR.

Kotzé classified these top 10 skills required for succeeding in 4IR by distinguishing between hard or technology-savvy skills and soft or social and business-savvy skills.

The top 10 skills include: Complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, co-ordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility.

Some of the hard skills include: Technology design and programming, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, systems analysis and evaluation, and judgement and decision-making.

Some of the soft skills include: Leadership, social influence and emotional intelligence (concern for others, cooperation, social orientation, social perceptiveness), analytical thinking and innovation, and creativity, originality, initiative and responsibility.

“If you look at it carefully, 4IR will require an almost 50-50 hard-soft skill set,” said Kotzé.

“In fact, if you want to succeed in 4IR you need both technology and business/social skills.”

Preparing students for the future workplace at University of Pretoria

The Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria has already begun steps to prepare for 4IR.

From a research perspective, these include a new Future Transportation and Sustainable Future Smart Cities infrastructure and research programme, and a world-leading Big Data and Data Science Institute.

In the School of Information Technology, the Department of Information Science has launched a state-of-the-art research, teaching and learning facility through its new virtual reality and interaction) lab.

The Department of Informatics has a mobile development lab and a user experience lab that provide students with a creative space to learn about and experience current trends in technology design.

The Department of Computer Science has already added a stream in big data science to its Masters degree offerings.

Rennie Naidoo

Associate professor at the School of IT, Department of Informatics, University of Pretoria.

Rennie Naidoo is an associate professor at the School of IT, Department of Informatics, University of Pretoria. He has served a number of clients on a number of IT projects in both the public and private sectors over a 20-year period.

Naidoo is also a NRF-rated researcher. His research interests are broadly about information systems and organisations with a particular focus on IT value, IT human resources development and end-user issues. He has published articles in leading international outlets such as the Journal of Strategic Information Systems, European Journal of Information Systems, Information Technology & People, and the Information Society Journal.

He has also presented at premier international information systems conferences such as the International Conference on Information Systems, Americas Conference on Information Systems, Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems, European Conference on Information Systems, and the International Conference on Cyber Warfare and Security.

Naidoo lectures topics on IT investment and enterprise systems to postgraduates at the university. He is passionate about giving to those who work in the IT field greater insights about business and finance. He runs a course on finance for IT professionals through CE@UP.

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15 Aug
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