South Africa and the future of work

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The future of jobs has been on the agenda of many South Africans as we head up to the election polls, and having recently celebrated workers day. With the world of work having radically changed over the years we look at the current employment landscape, highlighting trends that are shaping our workforce as well as areas that still need improvement.

There’s no denying that we exist in a technology-driven world filled with endless possibilities to change the way we live, work and interact. Yet, with promise comes challenges, and even though automation and artificial intelligence have the ability to boost productivity and economic growth, their use can potentially take the place of some work activities that humans are paid to do – a very real concern for the local workforce.

According to McKinsey Global Institute’s latest report, as many as 375 million workers – or roughly 14 percent of the global workforce – may need to switch occupations or upgrade their skills by 2030 due to digitisation and automation. This may seem daunting; however, it signifies a substantial workplace transformation and positive changes for all workers. Not to mention the indirect creation of new jobs from technology – with the same report estimating 250 to 280 million new jobs created globally from the impact of rising incomes on consumer goods alone.

South Africa operates in a global economy, which demands that be are as efficient as the next country to remain competitive, so it is critical for employees to work with automation and not against it. The workforce needs to look at what the future of work will look like in the next few years and take responsibility for their skill set – identifying and developing skills that embrace automation and make the most of it. At the end of the day, machines are still driven by the human touch and workers should view digitisation as something to celebrate, not fear.

As a result of this digital disruption, the kinds of skills companies require are shifting. To keep pace with innovation, the most advanced businesses worldwide are prioritising addressing the potential skills gap with the upskilling or reskilling of existing workers. Instead of hiring new staff, this modern view of learning positions retraining and reskilling above talent acquisition.

One of the main drivers behind this kind of thinking is a sense of urgency – the technological transformation is accelerating in pace, and new skills are coming to the forefront. In turn, this means that the talent pools are small because these new skills are scarce, so it makes more sense to invest in learning on a continuous basis of current workers rather than attempting to find new employees who may not have all the necessary skills.

The potential of the current employees should be the data that the HR systems maintain, informing which people are best suited to which upskilling or reskilling programmes. It is also important to note that every company should have uniquely tailored programmes that not only keep up to date with current technologies and the skills required to utilise these innovations but also fit in well with the company’s culture and values.

Statistics South Africa reported that the country’s unemployment rate decreased by 0.4% to 27.1% in the fourth quarter of 2018, yet during the same time period, the Eastern Cape recorded the highest number of young people aged 15–24 years who were not in employment, education or training. With so many young people without work, employability is a cause for concern, and it can be argued that the education system is lacking when it comes to equipping graduates with the skills that make them employable.

We must bring education and business closer together to minimise the gaps in employability and ensure that money is well spent on learning that is appropriate and relevant for when graduates start working. After all, education is our hope for the future of South Africa’s workforce, so we need to strive for quicker, continuous solutions.

Adaptability is a crucial skill that employers are constantly looking for in their employees. Other employable skills include problem-solving, drive, thinking independently and creatively, coping with pressure and confidence. These attributes separate extraordinary workers from average ones and should be built into the curricula of schooling systems.

As the workplace changes and becomes more automated, organisations of all shapes and sizes, and in all sectors, need to re-evaluate their talent strategies and workforce needs, carefully considering how to train and prepare workers for a new world of work. Knowledge is depreciating faster than ever, and as a result, companies need to be creative in

developing solutions that allow them to quickly find, build and deploy skills aligned to a rapidly evolving future. Individuals too, will need to acquire these in-demand skills and reframe their perceptions of how they work, how employable they really are, and what talents and capabilities they bring to the table.

By Robbyn Wilkinson, Managing Executive of Talent Solutions at Adcorp

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