Enhancing soft skills an essential strategy in the era of AI in Africa.

Enhancing soft skills: an essential strategy in the era of AI in Africa.

Positive conflicts in the workplace
Insights with Dzigbordi K. Dosoo

In Africa, a continent bursting with economic potential and technological growth, a new kind of conversation is starting to emerge regarding the necessary skills for 21st-century success. As the wave of Artificial Intelligence (AI) gains momentum in African workspaces, the focus on hard skills, although important, is starting to shift towards a balanced integration with soft skills. McKinsey’s research suggests that the demand for soft skills will surge by up to 26% across the globe by 2030, reinforcing the necessity for African professionals to cultivate these abilities in the unfolding AI age.

Commonly referred to as ‘people skills’ or ‘interpersonal skills’, soft skills are non-technical attributes that dictate how you work and interact with others. These skills, such as communication, problem-solving, adaptability, teamwork, and leadership, are transferable across various industries and pivotal for career progression.

Africa, with its rich cultural diversity and rapidly growing tech landscape, demands a unique set of soft skills. These skills form the backbone of effective work relationships and career success. Let’s dive deeper into some of these skills and examine why they are particularly relevant in the African workspace, using some exciting research findings to guide our conversation.

  • Communication: Effective communication remains at the heart of any successful business, but it takes on an added dimension in Africa due to its rich cultural diversity. A study by the Journal of Business and Social Science finds that intercultural communication significantly impacts team performance in multicultural workspaces, common across Africa. It’s not just about speaking and writing clearly; it’s also about understanding and respecting cultural nuances, being an active listener, and providing clear feedback.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions positively and to empathize with others. A paper published in the African Journal of Business Management highlighted the positive correlation between emotional intelligence and job satisfaction. In Africa’s often high-pressure work environments, emotional intelligence can reduce conflict, enhance collaboration, and contribute to a healthier work environment.
  • Adaptability: With Africa emerging as a hotbed for technological advancement, adaptability is increasingly essential. A report by the African Development Bank stressed the importance of adaptability in the face of rapid digital transformations. Whether it’s adapting to new software or responding to shifts in market dynamics, professionals who are open to change and eager to learn are often the most successful.
  • Problem-solving: The ability to solve complex problems is a highly sought-after skill, particularly in an era where routine tasks can be automated. A study in the South African Journal of Industrial Psychology emphasized the growing need for complex problem-solving skills in the digital age. Creative thinking, innovative solution-building, and the ability to work under pressure become distinguishing abilities in the African workspace.
  • Teamwork: Working well with others is a fundamental skill. Given Africa’s cultural diversity, the ability to collaborate effectively with a broad range of people is essential. Research published in the African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure found a strong correlation between teamwork and productivity. Being a team player in Africa means acknowledging diverse viewpoints, building consensus, and striving towards a common goal.
  • Leadership: True leadership transcends job titles. It’s about inspiring others, making sound decisions, and driving innovation. A report by the African Leadership Institute underscored the importance of ethical and transformational leadership for African professionals. Developing leadership skills can help navigate the dynamic African tech scene and empower teams to reach their full potential.

When we talk about the AI-Soft Skills gap, especially in the African context, we are essentially pointing out the difference between what AI can do and what humans bring to the table with their soft skills. AI, or Artificial Intelligence, has been making quite a splash across the world and Africa is no exception. From agriculture and healthcare to finance and education, AI is changing the game, boosting efficiency, and opening up exciting new possibilities. AI can handle data analysis, pattern recognition, and routine tasks far more efficiently than humans.

But here’s the catch: AI is great with numbers, but not so great with people. You see, machines and algorithms lack the human touch, the emotional intelligence that is often the key to solving complex, real-world problems. And this is where the AI-Soft Skills gap comes into play.

Let’s take an example. Imagine you’re a customer service representative in a Kenyan tech company. An angry client is on the line, frustrated about a technical issue. Sure, an AI chatbot can provide a scripted response, but can it really understand the client’s frustration? Can it empathize and reassure the client, negotiating a resolution that leaves the client feeling heard and satisfied? Probably not. This situation calls for soft skills like communication, empathy, and problem-solving – things that AI just can’t replicate.

Another scenario could be a diverse team working on a complex project in a Nigerian startup. This situation requires leadership, teamwork, and adaptability, skills that are inherently human. An AI can help manage tasks, but it can’t lead a brainstorming session, mediate a team conflict, or inspire a team to think creatively.

Research by McKinsey suggests that as automation takes over more routine tasks, the demand for these uniquely human soft skills is set to rise, not just globally, but also in Africa. A study by Deloitte echoes this, stating that by 2030, two-thirds of jobs will be soft-skill intensive.

This doesn’t mean we should resist AI – far from it. AI can handle the number-crunching, the data analysis, and the routine tasks, freeing us up to focus on what we humans do best. But it does underscore the importance of soft skills in the African workspace. As we navigate the digital transformation journey, striking a balance between AI and soft skills could be the key to success. And the exciting part? This isn’t a future prediction. It’s happening right now.

Here are 4 keys that African professionals can use to boost their soft skills to stay ahead of the curve in this exciting AI era.

  1. Embrace Continuous Learning: In the rapidly evolving landscape of AI, learning can’t stop at the classroom door or after a degree program. It’s a lifelong journey. Look for opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills, whether through online courses, workshops, or webinars. Also, consider finding a mentor who can guide you and provide constructive feedback.
  2. Practice Mindful Communication: Effective communication goes beyond merely conveying a message. It involves active listening, understanding the other person’s perspective, and responding thoughtfully. So, the next time you’re in a conversation, try to fully engage and empathize with the other person’s point of view. This practice enhances mutual respect and understanding, which are vital for effective teamwork and leadership.
  3. Cultivate Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence can be a game-changer in the workplace. Start by recognizing and managing your emotions and try to understand and empathize with others’ feelings. Practice mindfulness techniques like meditation to improve self-awareness. This skill will enable you to navigate challenging situations with grace and ease.
  4. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: One of the best ways to develop soft skills is by stepping outside your comfort zone. Seek out new experiences and challenges. Whether it’s leading a project, speaking in public, or working with a diverse team, these experiences can help you grow as a professional and as an individual. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity to learn and develop new skills.

Enhancing soft skills in the era of AI is not just about keeping up with the trends. It’s about staying relevant in a changing job market, standing out in a crowd of professionals, and, most importantly, continuing to grow and develop as a person. After all, we’re not just workers – we’re human beings, and these ‘soft’ skills are what make us uniquely human.

In the end, in this era of AI and digital transformation, let’s remember to leverage our unique human capabilities. It’s about achieving that balance – utilizing AI for what it does best, and harnessing our soft skills to do what we humans do best. And when we strike that balance, we’ll be unstoppable.

Original Source: B&FT