While there continues to be debate around the digital economy’, the ‘gig economy’ and the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – much of it is overhyped and needs to be demystified, says Aadil Patel, national practice head and director of the Employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH).
Patel said that much of the discussion around digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies creates unnecessary hype and leads to fear mongering around employment.
“There seems to be a concern among a large number of people who fear that the implementation of new technology and new ways of doing work would lead to job cuts,” he said.
“Well, it wouldn’t. Simply put, just like the fax, email and internet did not lead to redundancy, nor will digital transformation. People simply have to adapt and enhance their skills.”
Instead, organisations should drive the digital empowerment of their workforce as this will have a positive impact on growth.
“The implementation of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will not replace a human workforce, but it will take over repetitive tasks and free up people to perform more creative and interesting tasks.”
The end of ‘9 to 5’?
Patel pointed out that digital empowerment is also fundamentally important, as a new generation of tech-savvy people are entering the job market and companies will have no choice but to create a whole new space of work.
“Organisations need to start thinking differently about the concept of work. For instance, five years ago, we did not think that you could make money as a social media specialist, yet there is now a great demand for those type of skills,” he said.
“The concept of what work has also been steadily changing, with many people starting to see it more as an activity rather than a location. Soon, the idea of a ‘9 to 5’ job will most likely become obsolete, as the new generation of workers seek the flexibility of being able to work when and where they feel most productive.”
“People find it difficult to enhance their skill sets and fear having to do it. At the same time, people also don’t realise that as they create new skill sets for themselves, they are also creating new prospects,” he said.
During his state of the nation address on Thursday (20 June), president Cyril Ramaphosa said that his government was preparing for a ‘high-tech economy’.
“We should imagine a country where bullet trains pass through Johannesburg as they travel from here to Musina, and they stop in Buffalo City on their way from Ethekwini back here,” he said.
“We want a South Africa with a high-tech economy where advances in e-health, robotics and remote medicine are applied as we roll out the National Health Insurance.”
To prepare for this high-tech future, Ramaphosa said that the government was planning to introduce a number of programmes to get the country up to speed.
This would include the introduction of coding and data analytics in the curriculum, and a revamp of the country’s legal and regulatory framework to promote innovation.