Learn and Earn

By Ryan Falkenberg

South African companies need to change their approach to skills development in order to address SA’s skills crisis. Most companies approach skills development by assessing what employees need to know and then developing content to use for training. The problem with the current skills development paradigm, however, is that doing any given job isn’t about knowing things – it’s about doing things. This is the knowledge/skills conundrum.

The big challenge SA has in terms of skills development is that people need experience to develop expertise through the application of knowledge. And few young people are offered this opportunity, largely because of the risks associated with practical learning. For example, inexperienced financial sales consultants raise fiduciary risk if they offer the wrong solutions to a client; technicians raise technical and physical risk if they link the wrong wires; and call centre agents raise brand risk if they offer the wrong answers. Interestingly, most of the decisions and actions that carry this risk are defined by clear policies and procedures. The issue is therefore that people struggle to learn and apply these rules in many contexts. But, what if, rather than trying to train their brains to replicate known rules, they were offered a decision navigator to guide them?

Decision navigation is not a new concept, although, for decades, people’s ability to make it practical was limited by their decision tree or process mapping logic. This created very restrictive guides that proved impractical in jobs where context varied.

On auto-pilot

However, with the advent of multidimensional data-driven logic that is unlocking many artificial intelligence technologies, this can now become a reality. In effect, people can be offered a navigator that can work like a GPS, guiding them through every known decision and action so they get it right, every time. And as a result, the person using the navigator can learn as they go, without worrying about making a mistake.

This is very much in line with how one uses a GPS when driving. If I go to CT for the first time, I can find my way around using a GPS. I don’t need to try read a map while driving through new roads with lots of cars. My risk of a crash is high. But, if I just focus my brain on driving and allow the GPS to guide my route, my risk of error drops.

The same applies to navigating staff through new jobs. Companies can now effectively offer new financial sales consultants a navigator that will safely steer them through a sales conversation, ensuring they ask the right questions and offer the right recommendations, based on clear rules. The same applies for technicians being guided through technical diagnostics, or call centre agents being guided through customer queries. This co-pilot technology effectively liberates people to focus on the road in front, and to learn while doing, without the worry of a mistake.

Learn on the go

To break the stranglehold of the skills crisis, SA needs to get people working today – not after they’ve completed a course or dozens of courses. The only way to do it is by using technologies that help me ‘do’, not help me ‘know’.

Technologies like AI have been much vaunted as solving the skills crisis – mostly by removing humans from the equation. What offers a better alternative is technology that can augment humans. This technology falls between the traditional one-dimensional knowledge management and the fully fledged self-driving car that is AI/cognitive computing.

Using multidimensional logic platforms, navigators can be created that guide humans through tasks or actions, using the knowledge in knowledge management systems plus the information housed in cognitive computing systems – knowing at every step where the person is in the process, what they are doing, and providing them with the help they need to get it right.

This has a number of implications for businesses, but particularly from a skills perspective. It means people can be brought on board and get up and running in a role within a very short time, without the need for weeks of training.

From a risk and compliance perspective, it means every action performed has a clear audit trail, showing all of the steps taken by an employee to reach a particular action – whether that is a particular piece of financial advice offered to a client, or a procurement decision. It is all tracked and recorded, substantially reducing the risk to the organisation.

The navigator model can be applied to pretty much every area of a business where the roads (policies and procedures) are known and it’s just the routes that change based on the person’s context. This frees people to focus more of their energy on innovation, creativity and customer engagement without worrying about if they have applied required rules to known problems.

Technology can solve SA’s skills crisis, and it is not learning technology. It is performing technology that allows people to begin work today and to learn as they perform, not in order to perform.