File photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The past few years have seen plenty of predictions that technological developments, such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI), will 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 to 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 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 retrain their existing staff. And instead of packing off everyone into classrooms and hoping they just “get it”, organisations should look to gaming, as well as augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies to help build skills.

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 a queue, you’re a gamer.

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 they move up a game’s levels, getting a more nuanced understanding of a concept or subject as they go.

Because smart devices are so 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 skill sets such as problem-solving and collaboration in a variety of situations.

Add in 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 - on to a real-world view of one’s surroundings. 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 skills without being put in 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, it needs to equip its workforce with the “human” skills outlined by the WEF.

Perhaps more importantly, however, organisational leaders need to realise 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.

Gillis is the founder of Sea Monster, one of South Africa’s pre-eminent animation, gaming, and augmented reality companies

Cape Times