A new report published by the World Economic Forum casts a grim light on the future of jobs across the world, with 1.4 million US jobs alone expected to disrupted by technology and other factors between now and 2026.
The report is an analysis of nearly 1,000 job types across the US economy, encompassing 96% of employment in the country. Its aim is to assess the scale of the re-skilling task required to protect workforces from an expected wave of automation brought on by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Drawing on this data for the US economy, the report found that 57% of jobs expected to be disrupted belong to women. In addition, the report found that if called on today to move to another job with skills that match their own, 16% of workers would have no opportunities to transition and another 25% would have only between one and three matches.
At the other end of the spectrum, 2% of workers have more than 50 options. This group makes up a very small, fortunate minority, as on average all workers would have 10 transition options today.
The positive finding of the report is the huge opportunity identified for re-skilling to lift wages and increase social mobility.
With re-skilling, for example, the average worker in the US economy would have 48 viable job transitions – nearly as much as the 2% with the most options today. Among those transitions, 24 jobs would lead to higher wages.
Re-skilling may also ultimately be the deciding factor as to whether the South African economy survives the fourth industrial revolution.
According to a report released by global consultancy Accenture in January 2018, 35% of all jobs in South Africa are currently at risk of total automation, meaning machines can perform 75% of the activities that make up these jobs.
Accenture said that both blue and white-collar jobs are at risk.
“The jobs of clerks, cashiers, tellers, construction-, mining- and maintenance workers all fall into this category,” it said.
Hard-to-automate jobs (those with a lower risk of automation) include tasks like influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers, Accenture said.
Similar to the WEF’s findings, Accenture found 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 20% (3.5 million jobs) in 2025 to just 14%(2.5 million).
“Digital is a growth multiplier. Digital technologies are ushering in a new economic era by overcoming the physical limitations of capital and labour, exposing new sources of value and growth, increasing efficiency and driving competitiveness, said Dr Roze Phillips, MD for Accenture Consulting in Africa
“However, for countries like South Africa that are less prepared for human-machine collaboration, digital technologies may bring more job losses than gains.”
“South Africa cannot hesitate – it must start now. To succeed, leaders must act swiftly to re-imagine work, pivot the workforce and scale up ‘new skilling’”, said Phillips.