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Humans give meaning to machines in the 4IR workplace

Against the backdrop of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the science of data analytics is the 'gold rush of the modern age', where valuable information is mined using technology to make businesses work better to offer customers enhanced products and services. Within this evolving scenario, the big question is what role will people play in the extraction of actionable data and which careers are being created as a result of these expanding possibilities?
Humans give meaning to machines in the 4IR workplace

These were just some of the insights discussed during a Nielsen panel discussion, The 4th Industrial Revolution is Arriving, at the Science Technology and Maths Conference (STEM) in Northgate, Johannesburg.

Speaking at the event, Nielsen Africa & Middle East Data Science Lead Jason Naicker said: “Within the context of the 4IR, machine learning has allowed for the automation of repetitive, time-consuming tasks, which includes data gathering. But collection of information is only one aspect of this data revolution. The important question is, what type of analysis and insight is required to apply meaning to that information?”

This is where the humans can teach machines to translate inputs from the physical world into usable information. “I like to describe it as employees becoming the ‘DaVincis of data’! We’re all becoming ‘artists’, by creating and shaping information for a better business bottom line.”

However, Naicker pointed out, that this only occurs when companies design their workplaces to be more humanistic and creatively orientated, to allow for the meaningful translation of data from the real world to actionable opportunities.

The power of people

Nielsen Sub-Saharan Africa HR Director Maya Govind said this underlined the importance of diversity and the inclusion of a variety of thought, experiences, skills and backgrounds in the talent mix. “We are a global measurement and data analytics company but our business is not only about the numbers; it’s also about understanding the people behind those numbers.

“For this reason, we don’t only look at Science and Maths qualifications for prospective employees but also value diverse skill sets including degrees in psychology and sociology, which have a huge relevance to the day-to-day work at Nielsen.”

Govind stressed that it was also important to appreciate the difference between technical competencies and behavioural competencies. “Technical skills are transient skills - they come and go and change all the time. What you need are deep, humanistic skills of understanding, empathy and human-based analysis.

“As a result emotional intelligence (EQ) has gained more attention in the recent years and is highlighted as one of the critical skills in the 4IR. This is underpinned by key skills such as: complex problem-solving; critical thinking; creativity; people management; judgement and decision-making; negotiation and cognitive flexibility.”

Looking at the question of job stability within a 4IR world, Govind commented: “It’s important to understand that this won’t mean fewer jobs for humans, but rather different ones. In fact most of the jobs that our current generation of pre-school children will go into, don’t even exist yet. So is there longer-term job stability? No. But will there be jobs? Absolutely, but it will require the evolution of current skillsets.”

‘Gamification’ of learning

To ensure its staff are equipped to deal with these challenges Nielsen has embraced the latest 4IR technologies into its on-the-job learning initiatives. This includes the concept of ‘Gamification’, which creates a shared, virtual experience of on-the-ground scenarios that allows users to learn faster and in a far more interactive manner.

Govind clarified, however, that this is just one aspect of Nielsen’s approach to learning. “We therefore utilise a variety of learning platforms - be they virtual or real world - for different types of skills training. Classroom learning, for example, will always have a place. After all, you can’t learn a core capability like leadership on an app!”

She added: “This multi-disciplinary approach to learning, stems from our aim of providing Nielsen employees with the experience and training to prepare them to take on progressive levels of responsibility and complexity and achieve their full potential in this new world of data, insight and analysis.”

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