SA at Risk of Losing 5.7 million Jobs to Digital Automation over Next 7 years

Updated on 17 April 2018

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technology reignites SA’s manufacturing sectorAround 5.7 million jobs in South Africa will be at risk over the next seven years due to digital automation. And this could have a crippling effect on the country, which is already suffering a fragile economy and growing unemployment.

This was revealed at a seminar held at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) on Monday.

Dr. Roze Phillips, postgraduate diploma in futures studies alumnus from USB and managing director for Accenture Consulting in Africa said that South Africa needed to act now to ensure that humans and machines can work together in the future.

“Our research shows 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 3.5 million (20%) in 2025 to just 2.5 million.”

“With the threat of automation growing, South Africa is less prepared than other countries and needs to give its workforce skills to participate in the digital economy. In a country with a staggering 27.7% unemployment and jobless youths making up 75% of unemployment, the future looks bleak,” said Phillips.

She added that job transition was not new. In the pursuit of higher productivity at lower cost options, jobs have for many years been shed.

“In recent times, many manufacturing and standard business process intensive jobs were outsourced to countries where labour was cheaper. Those jobs rarely made it back to home soil but at least outsource recipient countries benefited from the employment opportunities created there. Today, the same phenomenon occurs. But now, the search for labour arbitrage is no longer between physical geographies, today, jobs are lost to the digital world and will, in all probability, never be done by humans again.”

Phillips further said that in a country like South Africa where poverty rates of unemployment are high and social security questionable, it’s vital for the country to upskill its people to collaborate with machines to enhance their own productivity.

“Machines do not consume things and whilst they can replace human work, they do not drive purchasing behaviour or contribute to GDP. Society will regress if humans can’t work, earn and spend. South Africa needs to learn how to ‘run with machines’.”

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks have the highest risk of automation. It’s not just manual labour jobs, added Phillips.

“Leaders will have the opportunity to reshape their organisations and society at large for the better if they accelerate reskilling people. But it needs to happen at an accelerated speed,” she said. (via African News Agency)

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