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JOHANNESBURG – The past few years have seen plenty of predictions that technological developments like automation and artificial intelligence will massively disrupt workforces around the world. South Africa’s own labour force, with its heavy dependence on sectors such as mining and agriculture, certainly hasn’t been immune from these doom-and-gloom predictions.

But automation and AI don’t have to spell disaster. In fact, with the right skills, workers can thrive in a fast-changing workplace. Far from the task-oriented skills that have been predominant since the industrial revolution, the workforce of the future will require much more “human” skills. 

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) notes in its 2018 Future of Jobs Report, these skills include creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation - all of which will retain or increase their value.

Rather than looking for new staff with these skills, organisations should re-train their existing staff. And instead of packing off everyone into classrooms and hoping they just “get it” (an approach that seldom works), organisations should look to gaming, as well as augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies to help build the skills they need. 

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The case for gaming

Thankfully, we’re long past the stage where people think of gaming as something that “kids do”. With the ubiquity of smartphones, everyone is a gamer now. If you’ve played Candy Crush while waiting in line for your driver’s license, you’re a gamer. 

It’s also well established that gaming fosters a variety of skills, including teamwork, collaboration, and problem-solving. 

Companies around the globe have realised that these are exactly the kind of skills they increasingly need and that gaming can help their workers develop said skills in a way that’s engaging and fun. 

Unlike traditional skills development, gaming allows people to experience real progress as the move up a game’s levels, getting a more and more nuanced understanding of a concept or subject as they go.

Because smart devices are so universally accessible, games can be used for everything from onboarding drivers for a courier company to allowing actuaries to demonstrate their problem-solving skills for prizes. 

Remember, the aim isn’t to use gaming to train people for a specific task. Rather, it’s to encourage skillsets like problem-solving and collaboration in a variety of situations. 

Add in technologies like AR and VR and things only get more exciting. Over the past few years, organisations have used these technologies to incredible effect for workplace training. 

The US Marines, for instance, have been using something called the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer (AITT) since 2014.

The system works by injecting virtual images—indirect-fire effects, aircraft, vehicles, simulated people, etc. onto a real-world view of one’s surroundings. As a result, soldiers can experience an almost infinite variety of scenarios with just a few tweaks of an algorithm. Degrees of difficulty can also be ratcheted up, allowing them to build the skills necessary for their craft without being put in real danger. 

Professional athletes, meanwhile, are using VR to hone their decision-making and collaborative skills in match-day simulations. 

What’s important about all these examples is that they reward process and thinking, rather than the ability to simply complete a task. 

If South Africa wants to remain competitive on the world stage, it needs to equip its workforce with the “human” skills outlined by the WEF. 

Perhaps more importantly, however, the country’s organisational leaders need to realise that this isn’t a concern for the future. Companies around the globe are successfully using gaming and its attendant technologies to provide their staff with the skills they need to thrive in the future - today. 

Local businesses need to do the same right now, or risk being left behind. 

Glenn is the founder of Sea Monster, one of South Africa’s pre-eminent animation, gaming, and augmented reality companies. He is also a sought-after speaker and panellist who regularly speaks at innovation conferences and business forums in South Africa and internationally. His passion and experience lie in the creative industries; serious gaming, animation, immersive technologies (AR & VR); and in the building of global, knowledge-intensive businesses.

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