This is what working in South Africa could look like in 2030

The National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) has published a new report looking at how the fourth industrial revolution could impact jobs in South Africa.

As part of the research process, the group set out four scenarios for how business and work life could change in the country by 2030.

“The scenarios reflect our assumptions about how current trends could unfold, how critical uncertainties could play out, and what new factors could come into play,” the researchers said.

“A set of scenarios can never provide a comprehensive image of the future; it is not the only possible construct of uncertainties and is not based on precise or the only assumptions about driving forces or how trends could unfold.

“But, they hold the potential of ‘rehearsing’ possible futures, offering opportunities to deepen insight, enrich debate and promote a shared understanding of where and how stakeholders can influence the future.”

These four possible scenarios are detailed below.


A dead-end

People with a sense of entitlement and inappropriate skills.

The dead-end scenario has some positives (like patches of economic growth), but is a mostly negative outcome. In this scenario:

  • South Africa experiences a large amount of unrest – lots of smoke from things being burned during uprisings;
  • There is more segregation (along income lines, not along racial lines like before);
  • There are minimal opportunities for the kinds of skills that the country has;
  • There is a huge strain on infrastructure (due to a lack of development in suitable infrastructure because of a lack of skills);
  • The country has experienced a skills exodus – particularly of the middle class, with skilled people from all race groups leaving;
  • Government in the dead-end 2030 scenario is misaligned, with everyone looking after their own self-interest, and little to no collaboration or sharing of information;
  • Existing frameworks are challenged by the people. They would have a strong sense of entitlement and demand jobs regardless of being inappropriately skilled;
  • The mental models of people in business, organised labour, government and the community centre around negativity, blaming, generalisation, and fear.

Demand and control 

People with a sense of entitlement and appropriate skills.

In  this scenario, the country would see the development of a new kind of economy, where the government is bigger and it makes the decisions about which industries to develop, what skills people should attain (individuals don’t have a lot of say in it themselves), and where resources should be allocated.

This bigger government would also need a bigger tax base, so all taxes would increase significantly. In this scenario:

  • Economic activities are undertaken with the primary aim of being good for the nation, rather than for making a profit;
  • Certain industries are earmarked by government, and they are receiving the bulk of funding for development;
  • Government and business work together to attract foreign investment to develop 4IR initiatives;
  • Certain skills are identified and suitable people are selected to be developed into attaining those skills. This control is very important – there is a vision and it guides the development of skills throughout the whole country;
  • Collective bargaining includes organisations representing the informal sector. Many activities that were previously regarded as informal, would be regulated;
  • Citizenry and the labour force are very active; they would engage with government and business through new forms of collective bargaining (mostly platform-based) to claim what they feel themselves entitled to;
  • There are frequent social uprisings and strikes as a result of unmet demands.

Missing the mark (for now) 

Empowered people with inappropriate skills

In the ‘missing the mark’ scenario, empowerment is defined as self-agency, initiative, strong commitment, belief, and determination to take individuals and the community to the ‘next level’. In this scenario:

  • People are empowered;
  • There is an environment to facilitate, engage and consult as communities and stakeholders;
  • Governance structures are built that facilitate consolidation and negotiation;
  • Empowering initiatives such as free access to internet/Wi-Fi and distribution are present – but with outdated tools and technology.
  • There is a lack of a clear country response in terms of the 4th industrial revolution;
  • People have obsolete skills, mostly as a result of their initial resistance to change;
  • There is a general lack of communication and very poor inter-departmental coordination on what the appropriate skills are. There is a lack of coordination between the private sector (or anyone else);
  • There is little in the way of green initiatives or response to environmental concerns like climate change.
  • Most issues result from timing – there are many initiatives, but they are very disjointed.

Accomplished game-changers

Empowered people with appropriate skills

Nedlac defined the ‘accomplished game-changers’ scenario as one where the workforce has the appropriate, in-demand skills, and are empowered to change the rules of the game – they change the labour market for the better.

Empowered people have access to information, technology, infrastructure, electricity, social protection, education and lifelong learning. With this in place, they have the power to make active life choices based on available alternatives and information, in line with their own life goals and priorities.

In this 2030 scenario, empowered people – women and men – with the right skills are active agents of change. In this scenario:

  • People are not confined to 9-5 jobs and it is not uncommon to have more than one employer;
  • Technological innovations lead to increased productivity and reduced working hours;
  • There is improved job quality, quality of life and work and family balance;
  • There is no discrimination in the labour market;
  • No one is considered unskilled/low-skilled or inappropriately skilled;
  • No segregation between public and private sectors;
  • People are comfortable with and willing to work with AI, but humans are in command;
  • Reskilling and life-long learning is a given;
  • Quick access and open access and AI become the enablers of new knowledge in rural and urban areas alike;
  • “Balloons” of infrastructure that facilitate Wi-Fi access to the cloud and markets;
  • People and their activities are not confined in one office space;
  • Most people have cross-sector skills.

Read: South Africa’s decline is the worst of nations not at war

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This is what working in South Africa could look like in 2030