Even conservative estimates suggest that over the coming decade, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) systems will lead to massive job losses. Where they don’t displace people altogether, they’re likely to have a profound effect on how work is done, in most if not all industries.
Existing skills are fast becoming obsolete and, to stay relevant, both companies and individuals need to acquire new skills – sooner rather than later.
What current estimates say about job losses due to automation
According to a recent report by Accenture, nearly 1 in 10 jobs is at risk of automation in countries that are currently members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The majority of OECD member countries have highly developed economies.
In less wealthy countries – especially those like South Africa, where significant unemployment and skill shortages already exist – the impact of new technologies may be even greater.
According to Dr. Roze Phillips of Accenture Consulting in Africa, 35% of all jobs in South Africa – close to 5.7 million jobs – are at risk of being lost due to automation by 2025. That’s just seven years from now.
Which jobs are most at risk in South Africa?
Among the categories of South African jobs considered most at risk are those in:
- accounting and auditing
- food preparation
- installation and maintenance
- insurance claims and policy processing
- office administration
- retail and banking – tellers and cashiers
That doesn’t mean people in other professions can relax. AI systems are getting better by the day at all kinds of complex tasks, from making financial trades to reading medical scans, flying planes and responding to customers.
How work is changing
Several major shifts are already well underway, in South Africa and elsewhere.
More short-term work
Increasingly, full-time employment is being replaced by short-term contracts – the so-called “gig economy”. Rather than settling into stable, comparatively secure jobs, skilled workers market themselves and compete for available work on a regular, or even on-going, basis.
At the same time, employers are making increased use of independent contractors and virtual, geographically dispersed teams.
A move away from traditional office spaces
Many more people are working from home. In 2017, Dimension Data conducted a survey of 73 South African companies, each with 1,000 or more employees. The results indicated that:
- 42% of South African organisations have employees working from home on a full-time basis
- 67% predict they’ll have employees working from home full-time within the next two years.
Also, as more people start working for themselves or setting up their own businesses, the popularity of serviced office and coworking space – like we offer at The Workspace – is skyrocketing.
Categories of skills South Africans are likely to need
Accenture has identified six categories of skills that people most need in the digital economy.
These include literacy (including basic digital literacy), numeracy and employability skills such as time management, listening and negotiation.
Across industries and at all levels, people will need to become comfortable with using digital tools, and learning new ones as they emerge. Digital transformation is making it necessary for most people to become more digitally “savvy”.
Specialist technical skills are needed for developing, maintaining and securing systems, and to support new technologies and capabilities.
According to the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), skills shortages in South Africa are already pronounced in fields such as statistical data analytics, systems analysis, infrastructure design and management and information security.
People need social and communication skills for building and leveraging networks, collaborating remotely with teams and handling the kinds of complex social interactions that remain a challenge for automated systems.
Increasingly, employers look to hire people who’ll bring existing networks of professionals with them.
As more routine tasks are automated, people spend more time on thinking critically, addressing problems and driving innovation.
A “growth mindset”
To survive, individuals and companies need to embrace change and continually learn new things. In job ads, demand for those who take the initiative to develop their own skills has increased by nearly 300% since 2010.
Specialised work skills
Demand always exists for specialized skills that address local market priorities and industry-specific needs. Because of on-going digital transformation, the skills needed are changing faster than in the past. This makes continuous learning a necessity.
What we offer at The Workspace
We can’t predict exactly what the future holds, and we don’t provide professional advice or skills training for getting ahead in the digital economy.
However, we can help freelancers, independent contractors and entrepreneurs by offering:
- affordable serviced office space and coworking, with access to high-speed internet, professional meeting rooms and boardrooms, a range of on-site business services and more
- regular networking and social events, which can help you build professional networks and forge relationships
- friendly, helpful staff, to add smiles to your work day and assist in any ways they can.