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Leaderex

Is SA ready for the new world of work? [SPONSORED]

The days of landing a job and staying in a company until retirement are gone. Indeed, for the new workforce, this old-fashioned approach holds little reality, writes Jane Steinacker.

Last year, Millenials (roughly defined as those born from the early 1980s) became the largest generation in the workforce. This, says Lee Naik, MD of Accenture Digital, is significant for two reasons.

“First, because Millennials will soon become the predominant source of human capital, and, second, because businesses stand to benefit greatly from the technology acumen and talent this generation (also known as ‘digital natives’) possesses.”

The greatest workplace disruptor, digital transformation, is changing not just the way people work, but also the type of companies they wish to work for.

“The major transformational force behind this is the digital revolution,” says Jonas Bogoshi, country manager for EMC Southern Africa. “Until now [this has] mainly existed inside traditional computational devices such as laptops and phones.”

But, he adds, this is going to get “a lot bigger”, and change the way we work and play.

“In four years there will be three times as many connected people, six times more connected devices, and data will increase fivefold.”

This digital revolution is the force behind what experts term the “fourth industrial revolution”.

“By 2020, the fourth industrial revolution would have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics,” says Naik, who is one of the experts hosting a discussion at this year’s Leaderex event on how companies can transform to digital.

The rise of the digital worker

The effect of this change is the rise of the digital worker.

“Wearable technology will result in highly mobile workers who work where they want to, when they want to, eliminating the need for large office buildings, rows of desks and regular office hours,” says Alan Hosking, publisher of HR Future Magazine.

This new type of worker will also need to be a chameleon, both technically proficient and able to embrace change, move from assignment to assignment, constantly learn new skills and be able to apply them in a variety of scenarios. They will need to align their skills set to keep pace and drive change.

“Creativity will be one of the top three skills workers [of the future] will need,” says Naik. “With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, workers are going to have to be more creative in order to benefit from these changes.”

The ‘we’ economy

The world of work is also expected to change into a more empathetic and collaborative environment.

“People will work in networks of resilient, ever-changing, high-empathy teams, with enterprise-wide, multidisciplinary collaboration happening across cities, countries and continents,” says Hosking.

As companies establish what their core and non-core activities are, they will also start outsourcing specialist tasks to drive efficiencies in their business.

“Companies will evolve from being factories which produce products or services into laboratories which research and develop products and services to meet our ever-evolving customer needs and demands,” predicts Hosking.

Naik adds that organisations will focus on how to orchestrate activities, rather than how to control them. This, he says, will create a “we” economy, which is driven by a focus on tapping into networks to drive efficiencies.

This change will stimulate the liquid work economy or the freelance industry. And how will this look? “The Gig economy,” explains Hosking, is one in which “large numbers of independent workers accept and undertake jobs on a one-off or temporary basis”, and, he says, this has already begun.

Where does SA stand?

South Africa’s skills shortage is seen as a barrier preventing the country from fully benefiting from the digital future. But, says EMC’s Bogoshi: “Nobody has the necessary skills.”

In his opinion there is a critical shortage of IT skills globally, and that supply is simply not able to keep up with the demand.

Hosking suggests that for SA to flourish in a market where the digital revolution is creating new opportunities, the country will need to demonstrate a high level of political and economic change to re-engineer our education system in order to better prepare our youth for the future.

It isn’t just the school system that seems to be behind the curve. Naik says active workplace training is not a reality in this market. “The Oxford Economics Workforce 2020 study found that less than half (42%) of South Africa’s employees get ample training on workplace technology – and less than a third (31%) actually get access to the latest technology.”

It seems that, in theory, the digital future presents unlimited opportunity for organisations in South Africa. However, the question that will be debated and unpacked at Leaderex 2016 is how business and society can and should be seeking to capitalise on the changes technology can offer. And, for existing workers, the impact on their future is also up for discussion as Deloitte Digital’s Valter Adão answers the question: Will I still have a job in 2020?

Leaderex takes place on 24 August 2016 at Sandton Convention Centre. Entry is free if you register online at www.leaderex.com before 19 August.