Equipping all youth to be future ready
In a world where innovation is driving rapid and profound technological change, one of the biggest challenges we face is to ensure that technology is an equalising force in the world – not one that drives people further apart. With five million jobs set to be lost to automation by 2020 and the global youth unemployment rate expected to reach 12.8 percent by 2018, this has never been more important than it is today.
This could only be countered if everyone is empowered with the benefits of technology, along with the skills to use and create it. Considering 60 percent of the population in the Middle East and Africa is under 25, our broad focus needs to be on ensuring all young people in particular – from all backgrounds – have the opportunity to build the digital skills that help them to be future ready.
Technical skills and computational thinking
The best place to start is by expanding access to computer science education. This is because a lack of access to computer science education threatens to widen the income gap between those who have the skills to succeed in the 21st century and those who don’t.
Computer science education involves the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, hardware and software designs, applications and impact on society. A significant part of it relates to coding. However, while our technologically-driven world will call for more and more technical professions, computer science education is also essential in developing students’ computational and critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The applications of this stretch far beyond writing software – these are important skills for fields as diverse as engineering, biology, archaeology, music and even the business world.
Gaining the confidence to succeed as an entrepreneur
Computer science education also gives youth a sense of independence, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.
Aya Yassen is an Egyptian graduate who had dreams of entrepreneurship but lacked the skills and confidence to get her own business off the ground. That’s when she decided to join the Microsoft Social Innovation Hub in Egypt.
With the right skills, Aya has developed the confidence to succeed as an entrepreneur in the traditionally male-dominated field of technology. Her app, Saydality, which connects customers and pharmacies, is now in the marketing phase and will soon be available for download.
Similarly, Peter Njenga was struggling to find a job in Kenya despite his education, and was working as a coffee hawker.
Peter got the opportunity to participate in Microsoft sponsored course at ACWICT, where he learned coding and developed his leadership skills. He is now the CEO of his own web design company.
Developing solutions for real-world problems
We need to enable all youth to learn the principles of information technology and computing, how digital systems work, and how to put this knowledge to use through programming to create the change they want to see in the world.
Nigerian student Canice Ngumah believes the main purpose of apps should be to solve real-life problems. He took part in the #Code2Earn programme at Imo State University and now plans to build an app to help solve Nigeria’s electricity issues.
Martina Kalyana is another example of a marginalised young person who is using technology to empower herself and her community. She is an Iraqi refugee who was displaced to Lebanon, and in the process saw her dreams of becoming a teacher fading away.
Through the Microsoft Dignity programme, Martina attended IT literacy and digital skills trainings. She was able to reignite her dream by volunteering at a local organisation to train other refugees. This is a small step toward empowering refugees to improve their lives and gain access to opportunities available to the others.
Creating a culture of computer science
There’s a growing interest in science and technology across the Middle East and Africa. Computer science in particular appeals to a generation of urban students who have grown up using digital devices.
With this in mind, after taking part in a computer science course, South African student Geraldo Vilanculu is passing on his new-found passion by training other students. His aim is to empower more young people by tapping into their interests in technology and helping them gain important problem-solving and computational thinking skills.
Overcoming the barriers
We need to encourage others like these young people to develop computer science skills because this is the single most important step they can take to prepare themselves to participate in and benefit from the digital economy.
A big part of this will be addressing the barriers standing in the way. These include outdated public policy; misunderstanding about what the subject teaches; a lack of people able to teach it; and a misperception about the type of people who should be studying the subject.
It is up to organisations like Microsoft to help equip educational institutions and non-profits and break down these misperceptions.
Building skills critical for future success
It’s an economic and moral imperative to ensure our youth are equipped with computer science skills. When they use technology to create something of their own design by coding for example, it builds technical skill, innovation, confidence and motivation – all of which are critical for their future success and that of their communities.
From 4 to 8 December, Microsoft is supporting educators, students and non-profits around the world during Computer Science Education Week. Please join us in building a global appreciation for computer science by visiting Code.org to check out our new Minecraft tutorial – The Hero’s Journey – participate in a free Computer Science for Everyone workshop, and plan your own Hour of Code.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”