The Professional – a podcast series for the future: Navigating the changing world of professionals

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Navigating the changing world of professionals By: Craig Comrie, Chief Executive Officer, Profmed

“A professional is not a grey old man in a suit,” says Craig Comrie, CEO of Profmed Medical Scheme. “A professional is someone who thinks deeply, in a balanced way, drives innovation and grows businesses that provides opportunities for others.”

Comrie is talking about Profmed’s podcast series The Professional, hosted by 702’s Bongani Bingwa, which examines the lives and careers of eight individuals who are responding to the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in fascinating ways. The Profmed team decided to launch this podcast series because the world of work is changing faster than we can keep up with, and it takes a special sort of professional to be inspired by the possibilities the world of work now offers.


The fourth what now?

We all know the first industrial revolution moved labour from farms to factories to mechanise production. The second one enabled mass production with the use of electricity. The third industrial revolution automated production using technology. 4IR is about taming “big data” and mastering knowledge. By 2020 more than 30 billion devices are expected to be in a giant network called the internet of things (phones, watches, laptops, fridges, dog collars etc) that are able to share their data with other things.

It’s the sort of futuristic scenario in which a computer interprets your MRI scan or finds legal precedents in archives as well as automatically watering your vegetable field to optimum levels or flying antibiotic-carrying drones to disease-ridden places. Think 3D printers creating heart valves, voice-controlled smart homes and self-driving cars. The point is, your career as a professional is set to change as much as a blue-collar worker’s is. In the best-case scenario, 4IR will usher in major transformations in the way we work, meaning happier people doing good work and improved quality of life for all. But, if this isn’t properly managed, the risks are mass unemployment and growing inequality.

Leaders such as Comrie are excited rather than dismayed by the potential the future holds. And he is not alone. For The Professional, he says, “we looked at the personality behind the professional, and we identified successful professionals who are different. Yes, they are highly educated pioneers in their field. But crucially, they have the ability to change their course because they have discovered how to add value in their areas of expertise and add value to their communities.”

Comrie thinks this is where solutions to economic crises lie. “To solve our unemployment crisis, you need sharp thinkers, people who can develop skills, foster an entrepreneurial spirit, have a sense of community and are generous to share their knowledge,” he says.


Dr Lex Rawhani

People like dentist-to-the-stars Dr Lex Rawhani. He is part of a new wave in the world of work: the blurring of boundaries as previously unconnected industries merge, thanks to technology. It’s a world in which we can and must be many things, not just one.

Lex understands that his unique selling point is his maverick personality in a world where a machine can identify cavities in teeth far better than he can, and even generate 3D models for his patients to choose their new looks. But Lex can: listen to what his patients need, repair the face damage of victims of crime and domestic violence for free, lecture a new generation of dentistry students, practise his Bahai faith, and even moonlight as a hip-hop artist. We live in a post either/or world now, and it’s liberating.


Thando Hopa

Turning tired tropes on their heads is also something qualified lawyer Thando Hopa knows a thing or two about. She didn’t ask to become a model – she was spotted – but she decided to use her unasked-for celebrity status to work at improving representations of people with albinism.

Thando is rewriting the script about who has access to the label “beautiful” and furthering the conversation about inclusion and representation and why it matters. She credits her experiences as a lawyer with giving her the understanding of how power works in society. Most likely, her next career will merge the skills she has learnt in all her previous incarnations in new and surprising ways, both because that is the way the world of work operates now, and because of who she is.


Phathizwe Malinga

The MD of connectivity company Sqwidnet is involved in bleeding-edge projects that use the tools of 4IR – for instance, to keep track of cattle in rural areas. His key to beating the 4IR challenges is to discover and service untapped markets, particularly poor or underserviced areas of South Africa. Says Malinga: “The fourth industrial revolution is about moving from having knowledge to managing knowledge. You [must] start managing the knowledge and making knowledge do far more.”


Roger Deane

Astrophysicist Roger Deane, who worked on the project to photograph a black hole this year, contextualises just how “big” the “big data” issue is: “In a few years’ time, the data from SKA will have larger archives than Facebook and Google combined.” SKA, the square kilometre array, will be the world’s biggest radio telescope. “When the SKA starts spitting out masses of data and images of its own, we’re going to have to find new ways of processing it,” says Deane.

“Astronomy has a big data problem, but I see it as an opportunity to make ourselves even more relevant to day-to-day technology. By training students to process this data, they are building up transferrable skills, so that they can go into any field that poses the same kinds of challenges.”


Dr Ela Manga

Integrative medical practitioner (and GP) Dr Ela Manga became interested in burnout and says one of the pitfalls of 4IR is the always-on culture that the knowledge revolution demands. “The body doesn’t have a chance to drop down into the relaxation mode, where healing can happen,” she says. She’s completely changed her practice from treating symptoms to looking at the causes of disease.


Palesa Sibeko

As a child, Palesa wanted to be a scientist, musician and writer – and she didn’t see them as mutually exclusive. She has degrees in molecular cell biology and music, but her heart is in new tech and entrepreneurship – so she’s spent her career so far in social media before launching a design thinking company, and then a hardware company – while also starting a nonprofit focused on girls in tech. She’s at home in the 4IR landscape, someone who’s comfortable jumping off a cliff and building her parachute on the way down. It’s this attitude that will make her not only survive 4IR, but thrive in it.


Nomfundo Mogapi

The Professional is a podcast series about the future world of work. It’s been in conversation with experts at the cutting edge of the fourth industrial revolution – all forward-focused. So why profile a clinical psychologist who insists on looking back?

Because she has spotted a vicious cycle in which we are stuck, and she is prepared to offer a solution. Our nation needs a trauma counsellor, a TRC for the soul, as Nomfundo Mogapi calls it. She sees herself as a psychosocial activist on a mission to get South Africa talking about its pain. “We need to face the truth of what happened to us. Most of us haven’t faced the pain we have experienced at a personal level, at a family level, at an institutional level, and at the collective level.”

This is not something a machine can do for us, because it involves irreplaceable human qualities: grit, endurance, bravery, willingness to endure pain, to grow. And yet, it’s crucial we do so. “Wounded people end up wounding others,” says Nomfundo.


Tshilidzi Marwala

The vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg is dripping in gravitas, so it’s surprising to hear his career – using artificial intelligence to do quality control testing on the machines we trust to do ever more complex work for us – originated in watching his grandmother test the clay pots she made in her rural village in Limpopo.

In the course of his career, Professor Marwala made machines that could listen to the sound of a car engine and report on it, or take readings on a patient in a hospital ward more accurately than a nurse could. He has co-invented things as diverse as an artificial voice-box, or software that can bluff when it’s playing poker. Engineering, medicine, computer science, social science, finance, economics… you name it, he’s thought about how AI might interact with it, enhance it, or replace it.

His scientific work has netted him the Order of Mapungubwe – South Africa’s highest honour – and he is advising President Ramaphosa as the deputy chair of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The tech revolution is a game changer, says Marwala. 4IR could bring about widening inequality, mass unemployment and talent shortages once AI takes over. As many as six million jobs are going to be affected in South Africa alone over the next seven years because of automation. Each time a computer or a robot becomes able to do something better than us, we lose more jobs. The lucky minority work full-time jobs; it’s the gig economy for the rest of us, picking up projects that are left once the majority of the work has been done by robots and computers.


Professionals ready for 4IR

In the best possible outcome, people are freed from drudgery to pursue meaningful and satisfying work. In the post-work world, there could even be a universal basic income, freeing intelligent and creative people to work for pleasure or financial incentive, for the joy of knowledge or for the upliftment of others.

“We recognize the value of a professional,” says Craig Comrie. “Real people making real differences, balanced people. We are all more than what we do, where we go or where we came from, and together we live and breathe in a world which is changing with or without us. For Profmed, too, the world is so much bigger than just medical aid, it’s about people doing amazing things through hard work and sharing their talents.”

This is why Profmed has made a priority, through its podcast journey, to remain curious, to uncover stories and broaden perspectives by shining a light on the brilliant, the different, the brave and the unique professionals who consciously paint the future.

“Everybody has a professional inside themselves,” says Comrie. “What’s your professional story?”