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The Importance of Human Capital in an increasingly Tech-Driven Workplace

Highlights from the DisruptHR Karachi 2.0 conference.
Updated 18 Sep, 2023 11:20am

What is the future of the workplace? This is a question being asked repeatedly in boardrooms, conferences and even at universities. Technology is changing the face of the workplace and bringing forth ‘disruptions’ through automation, remote work and AI, among other things. The question becomes: In the age of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, how should companies and businesses nurture, train and retain human capital?

In a bid to answer this question, a conference titled ‘DisruptHR Karachi 2.0: Disrupting Human Capital in Times of AI’ was organised at Muhammad Ali Jinnah University (MAJU) on August 19 by DisruptHR Karachi which describes itself as “an information exchange designed to energise, inform, and empower people in the HR community.” The forum provides an opportunity for HR professionals to discuss the challenges brought about by recent industry developments, such as automation and hybrid work.

The event was a frenzied and rushed medley comprising short five-minute presentations by 12 speakers followed by a networking session. This led to somewhat of an ‘information overload’ for the audience (which includes tech experts, business unit heads, CEOs, entrepreneurs and tech start-ups) and was akin to a juggling act for many of them. Some of the prominent speakers included Dr Zubair Shaikh, President MAJU, Burhan Mirza, founder the Coach360', Nadia Sayeed, visiting faculty at IBA, Muhammad Ali, founding president of DOHR(Development of Human Resources), Nausheen Ahmedjee, Head of People and Organization at Siemens Pakistan and Dr Farhan Essa, Managing Director and CEO, Dr Essa Laboratories and Diagnostic Centre.

In his opening remarks, Dr Zubair Shaikh, President MAJU noted how the ubiquitous presence of digital technology has disrupted human interaction and turned us all into ‘humanoids’. “We need to understand, at a deeper level, the impact of social media on human behaviour and what it portends for the future.”

Burhan Mirza, a life coach and scaling entrepreneur, affirmed that several key disruptions have emerged in the recent past and that firms need to take proactive steps to embrace these changes and turn them into opportunities. He emphasised that automation tools have helped streamline repetitive tasks, thereby enhancing operational efficiency and that the integration of AI-driven solutions to handle routine processes has allowed the workforce to focus on more strategic and creative initiatives. Mirza added that by providing relevant training and upskilling opportunities, companies can ensure that employees remain at the forefront of innovation.

However, as automation takes over routine tasks, Mirza noted that skills such as empathy, communication, and relationship-building will become more valuable. Furthermore, other jobs that require uniquely human skills, such as creative problem-solving and idea generation, will remain important despite automation. “The ability to think creatively and bring fresh perspectives to challenges will never be obsolete as will continuous learning and reskilling. The ability and willingness to continuously learn new skills and adapt to changing job requirements remain crucial.”

According to Nadia Sayeed, corporate trainer and visiting faculty at IBA, developments in robotics and AI will significantly impact the future of work by automating routine tasks, enhancing efficiency and reshaping job roles. She maintained that while certain jobs may be displaced, new opportunities will arise in areas like AI development, data analysis and human-AI collaboration. In her opinion, concerns about job displacement in Pakistan due to robots are valid but there are things to consider. “Embracing AI can boost productivity and create new industries. To mitigate job loss, focusing on upskilling the workforce for roles that require human creativity, empathy, and critical thinking is crucial.”

Speaking to Aurora, Muhammad Ali, founding president of DOHR(Development of Human Resources) and organiser DisruptHR Karachi 2.0 stated that HR practices have evolved over time to adapt to changing workplace dynamics and have shifted from traditional administrative functions to a more strategic role, focusing on employee development, engagement and well-being. He maintained that despite AI, human capital remains crucial as while technology can automate certain tasks, it cannot replicate unique qualities that people bring to the table, such as creativity, emotional intelligence and complex problem-solving. “HR's role is to harness the potential of AI while emphasising the value of human skills. This involves fostering a culture of continuous learning, upskilling employees to work alongside technology and ensuring that ethical considerations are addressed in AI-related HR practices.”

My main takeaway from the event is the need for budding tech professionals to focus on upskilling, as most speakers emphasised that the job landscape in Pakistan is evolving rapidly and reiterated that graduates need to equip themselves with a diverse skill set to secure the ‘jobs of the future’. Without developing these skills, they will fall behind their peers in the global marketplace. Among these, digital literacy and tech skills are crucial but graduates should also be well-versed in emerging technologies that are increasingly in demand such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analysis and coding.