Op-Ed: Why leaders need to embrace, not fear, the digitised future of work

By Valter Adão, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer, Deloitte Africa

The machines are coming for our jobs. This is a dystopian vision of the future of work popularised by the media and perpetuated in boardrooms across the globe.

South Africa is not immune from this misperception and here it has created a climate of fear and paralysis.  Leaders, both civic and corporate, hesitate to encourage and incentivise the very digitalisation needed to sustain and grow our economies out of a misguided fear of job losses and the ensuing civil backlash.

Ironically, the exact efforts to protect jobs from technology may end up being the biggest cause of job losses in the future. Because, without a shift to a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) mindset, businesses will progressively become less competitive against their global peers, eroding their economic relevance and the jobs they sustain.

Decision makers, therefore, need the courage to embrace the paradox that while jobs might be subsumed by technology, only technology will be able to create new ones.

Yes, automation and cognitive technologies will eliminate jobs; mostly in search of improved efficiencies and productivity, and to some extent to reduce reliance on expensive, rare and specialised skills. It is futile and economically reckless to think otherwise.

The good news is that these same technologies will create demand for new skills and new jobs. The World Economic Forum (WEF) conducted an extensive study, leveraging insights from business leaders cumulatively responsible for 15 million people across a variety of sectors, skills and seniority levels globally. The study concluded that for every job that is lost to 4IR popularised technologies, 1.7 jobs will be created.

The consequent economic knock-on effects of these new jobs, although not quantified, would undoubtedly be significant and further contribute to net employment.

Unfortunately, the net new jobs will mostly remain in the domain of the educated and available to those with the means to access and afford the cost of sourcing new 4IR-related skills.

Green shoots

There are, however, green shoots of positive developments, led by a new breed of digitally literate entrepreneurs. They have not “invented” the technology, but instead leverage technology platforms to create self-employment and economic sustainability. These digitally literate entrepreneurs, many of them running micro-businesses, are creating employment and economic activity in lower income level segments in the following key areas:

1. Distributed value chains

Distributed value chains involve a category of people who are generally unemployed or under-employed and are able to fulfil a last-mile service gap by trading in their skills or available time. These platforms link people with capacity and/or skills constraints to people with the time and skills needed. This is done in a way that is dignified, safe, peer-reviewed for quality of service, and enables higher wages compared to traditional constructs. These platforms have been effective at creating jobs in developed, low-unemployment economies. Their contribution to employment is proven, significant and immediately tangible.

2. Collaborative consumption

It is often impossible for small organisations or individuals to justify the ownership of an asset because of affordability, or the ability to use the full capacity of the asset. The converse applies in which access to the asset through a sharing mechanism enables the same benefit as asset ownership. For example, digital platforms, such as Nigerian start-up Hello Tractor, that provide access to key equipment on a pay-per-use basis allow companies and individuals to reap economic benefits from utilising technology without the associated costs of owning the equipment.

This in turn enhances efficiencies and competitiveness of small organizations and levels the playing field for them in relation to large ones. Collaborative consumption has many forms and different levels of sophistication. At the extremes of technology, companies like 3D Hubs enable the collaborative consumption of 3D printers, allowing the 3D printer to become a shareable asset within its community.

3. Digital economic catalysts

Digital platforms increase levels of transparency, which combined with the network effect of connecting communities and frictionless transaction flow, is reviving sectors that have lost their appeal due to a lack of transparency, reduced levels of trust and relevance to specific demographic groups, and tedious or complex manual processes. These sectors are being revived by digital platforms that economically empower micro-entrepreneurs – or allow them to further empower other micro-entrepreneurs. StokFella and Livestock Invest are good examples of platforms that have shaken up entrenched concepts.

Digital technologies present both risks and potential. The way forward is not fixed nor will it be easy, but with the right leaders, and a mindset of urgency, curiosity and a preparedness to challenge existing paradigms, we have a good chance of achieving an abundant future.

We also need citizens and entrepreneurs that see opportunity in this new era open to doing things that have never been done before – in ways not previously considered, leveraging technology never before available.

Related Content

As the new POPI Act takes effect, here’s what you need to know

The much debated Protection of Personal Information Act is being put to bed. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on the 22nd of June that all operational provisions of POPIA will officially commence on 1 July 2020, except for two provisions, sections 110 and 114(4), which will only commence on 30 June 2021. Is it worth it for businesses not to comply and what are the security issues around it? Wale Arewa, CEO of Xperien and Leishen Pillay, Associate Director of Privacy and Technology at Deloitte join CNBC Africa to give insight.

SAA ready to cede control to private investors

Is the South African government prepared to let go of control of its ailing airline South African Airways in a bid to save it? "We are not obsessed with control," the deputy director general of the Department of Public Enterprises was quoted as saying. He added that the government was ready to cede management control to private investors. What does this mean for business - is it practical? Air News Editor, Heidi Gibson joins CNBC Africa for more.

COVID-19: Trend Micro’s Siriniwasa on the cybersecurity implications of working remotely

As most organisations now turn to the digital space and adapt to remote working, cybersecurity security awareness is increasing. A study from Trend Micro found that 66 per cent of remote workers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are more conscious of their organisation’s cybersecurity policies since the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Indi Siriniwasa, Vice President of Sub Saharan Africa at Trend Micro joins CNBC Africa for more.

SAA business rescue plan continues to see grey skies

Embattled state owned carrier South African Airways continues to see grey skies as its business rescue plans have been pushed back countless of times in the past six months, as well as recently being criticised by the courts for not making meaningful progress. Joining CNBC Africa for more on SAA’s business rescue is George Nel, Senior Business Rescue Practitioner at Corporate Business Rescue.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

Land Bank default forces S.Africa’s central bank into $200 mln bailout of state investment arm

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s central bank has issued a 3.45 billion rand ($200 million) guarantee to bail out the Corporation for...

Zimbabwe’s Landela agrees to buy state-owned gold mines, seeks more assets

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s Landela Mining Venture has reached agreements to take over and revive four idle state-owned gold mines and is...

How Zimbabwe farmers will be trained how to farm with a scheme from Belarus with love

When the farm invasions were unleashed by the people in power in 2000, it led to bloodshed and random confiscation that reaped a bitter harvest of lost production and exports that persists until this day. That year with all of its fumbling fury fuelled with the idea that to get rich you merely had to own a farm, is always seen as a turning point for the industry. It created a large slice of the country’s GDP and as it fell, so did the fortunes of Zimbabwe.

South Africa’s National Treasury says “no further action” to bailout SAA airline

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s National Treasury said on Friday there was “no further action” planned to bailout struggling national airline...

Partner Content

Sanlam launches urgent job-preservation initiative in response to COVID-19

Sanlam Investments is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic through large-scale support of the recovery of South African companies, from small enterprises to...

Is Market Volatility Here For The Foreseeable Future?

Content provided by CompareForexBrokers Prior to understanding why market volatility might be here to stay for the foreseeable future,...

Trending Now

Morocco’s RAM to axe routes, may reduce fleet to secure aid

RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc plans to cancel some air links, cut jobs and may sell 20 aircraft to...

Vedanta’s Zambia copper unit warns part of Nchanga open-pit mine about to collapse

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a unit of diversified miner Vedanta Resources, has closed part of its open-pit mine...

Old Mutual makes acting CEO permanent, a year after sacking predecessor

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Old Mutual said on Friday acting CEO Iain Williamson had been made permanent, ending a year of uncertainty over...

South Africa’s Capitec forecasts 70% profit fall in blow to shares

(Reuters) - Capitec Bank forecast a fall of at least 70% in first-half earnings on Friday due to a spike in bad...
- Advertisement -