Technology

June 19, 2024

AI to boost workforce by 0.6% annually — McKinsey Research

AI to boost workforce by 0.6% annually — McKinsey Research

* As new White Paper says AI ‘ll help youths create jobs, drive economic growth

* Focus more on positives of AI, Microsoft advises Africans

 By Prince Osuagwu

A New McKinsey report has tipped Generative Artificial Intelligence GenAI, to enable labour productivity growth of up to 0.6 percent annually until 2040.

 This is also as a  whitepaper titled AI and the Future of Work in Africa sees the technology as a pivotal tool to help African youths create jobs, drive innovation and economic growth.

Contents of the white paper, produced by Microsoft and a collective of industry experts from across the continent, made the software giant to advise Africans to focus more on the positive outlook of AI than the negative characteristics it portend.

Chief Technology and Solutions Officer at Microsoft Africa, Ravi Bhat, said Africa has a unique opportunity to influence what the future of work looks like with AI than other ways of mopping up unemployment which ravages the continent.

Bhat , speaking to the whitepaper says there is a huge prospect of the continent managing some of its economic woes better with AI, especially in these early days large language learning models (LLMs) are evolving, and the environment for applications is still new.

Bhat noted that nearly one billion people in Africa are currently under the age of 35 with the continent projected to be home to almost half of the world’s youth population by the turn of the century, in effect making up half of the potential global workforce of the future.

He also pointed out that currently, up to 12 million young Africans enter the labour market annually, even as a report from the International Labour Organisation, says that more than 20% are neither in employment, education nor training.

So, for him, “We see a significant role for generative AI to not only transform work environments, but also foster opportunities for the youth to create jobs, innovate and help drive economic growth and stability across the continent”.

The whitepaper, from which Bhat derived his narratives, says generative AI is in a pole position to drastically change knowledge worker jobs, especially in terms of the type of work done, the skills required, and the outputs produced.

Corroborating Bhat, Director at Microsoft Research Africa, Jacki O’Neill, added that Generative AI has significant potential to advance human capabilities. “As more people across Africa get access to GenAI tools through their internet-enabled devices and more affordable data, the barriers to access are being reduced and opportunities for skilling can increase.

“But it is not only information workers that stand to benefit from GenAI. The promise of GenAI to transform industries such as agriculture, healthcare, and services must be balanced by equipping the youth with the skills needed for an AI-disrupted labour market to ensure that they are not left behind in this technological shift.

“It is therefore important to build skills across the spectrum, from how to deploy and use GenAI tools effectively at work, to how to build appropriate and innovative applications and technologies on top of these models, to the post-graduate skills of research and innovation in machine learning, natural language processing, human-computer interaction, cybersecurity, and systems to name a few.

“Investing in this range of skills gives Africans the best opportunity to create dignified, appropriate jobs, to adapt AI sensitively to indigenous knowledge, to create new value chains, and better AI systems which might reflect for example human-centred and community values. Such systems would add value globally and could counter typical tech-centric models of automation and deskilling,” O’Neill said

With culturally and linguistically sensitive design, GenAI can become more tailored to individual workers, learning from interactions and becoming a personalised tool that respects privacy and enhances each worker’s unique skills. It can serve as a guide to foster inclusivity and showcase the diverse skills and abilities of African workers. GenAI can also be appropriated as a community-focused tool that supports collaborative work and communal development.

The technology can assist in decision-making, risk assessment, and data analysis, empowering entrepreneurs in their ventures. For the informal sector, tailored GenAI tools will elevate the capabilities of entrepreneurs, providing customised assistance for their unique needs.

According to the whitepaper, ensuring a beneficial outcome with GenAI involves proactive governance, inclusive design, investment in education, and a commitment to regulatory and ethical standards. This is a collective responsibility, requiring engagement from policymakers, technologists, and citizens alike.

“Technology alone cannot solve the challenges that our youthful continent faces. We need to create policies and practices to ensure that GenAI, and AI in general, is deployed responsibly with AI-related labour being valued and dignified. It requires the macro-economic, labour, and regulatory markets to adapt and be capable of supporting positive change,” adds Bhat.

The AI revolution in Africa is no longer just a possibility; it is already underway, and Microsoft is committed to working  alongside individuals, governments, partners and stakeholders across the continent to prepare for a future where AI is intricately woven into the fabric of work and society in Africa.