AUTOMATION – FRIEND OR FOE?

The rise of the digital economy, rapid technological advances and innovation in robotics, as well as advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI) are key drivers of change that will have profound impact on the global society, economy and the world of work. For an economy to succeed in a dynamic world characterised by exponential advancements in technology, an effective skills strategy must be able to anticipate the future design of work.

There is a growing concern regarding what the jobs of the future will look like and whether or not a country like South Africa – characterised by a high unemployment rate, especially amongst youth, and slow economic growth – is equipped to handle what is to come.

Exactly when and to what extent the labour market will see a shift due to automation is yet unknown as it is dependent on factors such as the development of technological capabilities, cost of technology and social and regulatory acceptance.

Activities that are likely to be automated can be found in highly structured and predictable environments such as manufacturing, data collection and processing.

As processes are transformed by the automation of these activities, it will become important for people to perform activities complementary to those done by machines. History has taught us that long-term mass unemployment does not have to be the future, as long as the labour market is able to create new types of work and embrace new industries that may develop. Coding for instance is different than what it was decades ago.

"Our research shows that if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration, it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 3.5 million (20%) in 2025 to just 2.5 million," says Dr Roze Phillips, Managing Director of Accenture Consulting in Africa. What should government be doing to build the capabilities of the future labour force? What are employers doing to prepare their organisations and their workforce?

In a move to overcome the ongoing skills constraints faced by industry, the Jobs Fund partnered with the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi) to scale up its CapaCiTi technology skills and job readiness programmes. "Disruptive technology is damaging social cohesion throughout the world, but we see this as a massive opportunity for South Africa to unlock all the latent talent which we have by providing access to relevant, responsive skills training and education," says the CEO of CiTi, Ian Merrington.

In a move to close the skills gap and progress towards an inclusive economy that is able to adapt to coming changes in the labour force, CapaCiTi will equip in excess of 3 000 talented young individuals, over a three-year period, with industry-demanded technology and business skills, such as software development languages like Java and Python as well as ICT infrastructure.

Following the three to twelve month training, candidates will serve six to twelve month internships before being placed in permanent jobs in South Africa's leading companies.

It is up to the private sector, business and civil society to work together and use technology to enhance opportunities for all in order to drive inclusive growth.

"Data driven companies who adopt and adapt tech will survive the surge in digital disruption across all sectors. This rapid digitisation of industry, coupled with the critical skills shortage in tech disciplines and high rates of youth unemployment, makes the environment ripe for job creation. CapaCiTi responds to business needs by designing tech training and job readiness programmes which deliver skilled young talent into the market", says Soraya Mohideen, Head of the CapaCiTi programme.