The future of work in South Africa, like elsewhere in the world, is clearly going to look very different.
Even conservative estimates predict that in the coming decade, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) systems will lead to massive job losses. Where they don’t displace people altogether, they will likely have a profound effect on how work is done, in most industries.
Existing skills are becoming obsolete and, to stay relevant, companies and individuals need to acquire new skills quickly.
In this article, we consider what’s changing and what skills you’ll need. We cover:
- estimates of job losses that could occur in South Africa due to automation
- the top 10 future skills identified as necessary by the World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report
- critical skills shortages and the jobs most at risk in South Africa
- how work is changing, including more short-term projects (or “gigs”) and the move away from traditional offices
- what categories of skills South Africans will need to adapt to the future of work in South Africa
- what we offer at The Workspace (and how it dovetails with new needs).
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 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The majority of OECD members have highly developed economies.
In less wealthy countries like South Africa, where significant unemployment and skill shortages already exist, the impact of new technologies may be 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 away.
World Economic Forum: top 10 skills of 2025
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report for 2020 lists the top 10 skills that will be in demand in the next five years or so. The report estimates that 50% of workers will need reskilling by 2025. As many as 40% of workers’ core skills are expected to change in the next five years.
The top 10 skills of 2025 are:
- analytical thinking and innovation
- active learning and learning strategies
- complex problem solving
- critical thinking and analysis
- creativity, originality and initiative
- leadership and social influence
- technology use, monitoring and control
- technology design and programming
- resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
- reason, problem solving and ideation.
Critical skill shortages in South Africa
The rapid changes in high-demand skills are already having an effect in South Africa.
In the Xpatweb Critical Skills Survey for 2020/21, 78% of businesses reported difficulties in recruiting employees with critical skills in South Africa.
Skill shortages are especially pronounced in certain fields. For example, companies are struggling to find engineers and ICT professionals.
Many struggle to recruit sufficiently experienced artisans, or media and marketing specialists.
Senior financial executives, health professionals, scientists and accountants are also in short supply, given the demand.
Which jobs are most at risk in the future of work in South Africa?
Among the categories of South African jobs considered most at risk from rapidly changing in-demand skills 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 improving 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 underway in South Africa and elsewhere.
More short-term work
Increasingly, full-time employment is being replaced with 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 on-going basis.
At the same time, employers are increasingly using independent contractors and virtual, geographically dispersed teams.
A move away from traditional office spaces
There has been a dramatic shift to work from home and alternative workspaces in recent years. This trend has changed the way businesses view traditional office space and work environments.
Dimension Data’s 2020 Intelligent Workplace Report surveyed 1,350 participants across 19 markets. This is what it found:
- 35% of businesses have changed their IT policy and 52% have deployed new productivity and communication tools to help employees work remotely.
- 60% are investing in video conferencing and collaboration spaces to bring office and remote workers together.
- 44% want to implement creative thinking spaces.
- 35% will reduce individual office desk space.
- 3% agree that now is the time to create the workplace of the future.
- As more people start working for themselves or setting up their own businesses, the popularity of serviced office and coworking space, like The Workspace, is skyrocketing.
Categories of skills South Africans are likely to need
Accenture has identified six skill categories that people most need to adapt to the digital economy and the future of work in South Africa.
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 be comfortable 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 supporting 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 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 skills. 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 specialised 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 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, and on-site business services
- regular networking and social events
- friendly, helpful staff.
We believe that flexible managed workspace, like we provide, is key to the future of work in South Africa!