Half of South African workers are worried that their jobs are at risk of automation

 ·20 Sep 2019

People who have fewer opportunities to learn new digital skills are more fearful of the impact of automation and are more likely to have lower levels of education.

These are the findings from new research carried out by PwC of more than 22,000 employees in more than 11 countries.

While 53% of workers surveyed globally that believe automation will significantly change or make their job obsolete within the next ten years (only 28% felt this unlikely), the majority (61%) were positive about the impact of technology on their day-to-day work, and 77% of people would learn new skills now or completely retrain to improve their future employability.

2,012 individuals were surveyed in South Africa, with seven in ten (70%) workers stating that they feel positive about the future impact of technology on their jobs.

Over half (56%) of South African adults worry that automation is putting jobs at risk – but when asked about their current job specifically, only 16% said they were nervous or scared about the future impact of technology, with women feeling more nervous/scared than men (21% vs 12%).

“All over the world jobs are changing – this is taking place at a rapid pace. The discrepancy between the skills people have and those needed for jobs in the digital world is one of the most critical issues in the workplace,” said Chantal Maritz, strategy and digital transformation lead at PwC.

“It is a problem for businesses, individuals, governments and policymakers. It is in the interest of all stakeholders to collaborate and work together to solve this issue. “

However, opportunities and attitudes vary significantly by an individual’s level of education. Location, gender and age also play a part.

Impact of education

The survey shows that degree-educated respondents are the most optimistic about technology and their future employment prospects – even though they believe their current job is likely to change significantly or be displaced.

Conversely, over a third (34%) of adults without post-secondary school education or training say they are not learning any new digital skills compared with 17% of college graduates.

Those workers without education or training beyond high school are also less likely to be offered such training opportunities by their employers (38 % are getting no opportunities compared with 20% of graduate workers).

They are also more worried about the impact of technology on jobs, with 17% saying they are nervous or scared.

In South Africa, over 70% of university-educated people (72% of those educated at undergraduate level and 75% of those at postgraduate level) feel optimistic about the impact of technology on their jobs.

Only 57% of those educated at school leaver level are more worried about the impact of technology on their jobs.

“Upskilling is about taking the skills people currently have and making them more relevant for the future,” said Maritz.

“South Africa’s youth face numerous socio-economic challenges including unemployment, poverty and inequality. High unemployment rates among youth between the ages of 15 to 24 years are among some of the most frequently cited indicators of the difficulty young people face in making the transition from school to employment.

“Despite recent improvements in the youth’s education levels, many businesses still find it difficult to fill vacancies, especially those requiring specialist skills.”

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