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How to equip our workforce for an automated Africa

There’s now a website called ‘​’, where you can enter your profession and see the likelihood of robot colleagues taking it over… Most industries seem quite safe, but some roles get the worrying response ‘robots are watching’, or, simply, ‘you are doomed’. Ironically, the site could use a human touch – especially in the area of emotional intelligence! While it should be taken with a pinch of pixels, it does play a role in highlighting the uncertainty the Fourth Industrial Revolution (i4.0) is making most of us feel.

​​​The World Economic Forum's (WEF) Future of Jobs Report by numbers, as reported by EWN:

    • By 2022, newly emerging occupations will grow from 16% to 27% of the employee base of large, global firms, while jobs threatened by technological obsolescence may decrease from 31% to 21%.
    • 75-million current jobs could become redundant. But 133-million new jobs may emerge. - Humans currently perform 71% of total task hours across industries, while machines and algorithms account for 29%. By 2022, humans will perform 58% of task hours, and machines and algorithms will perform 42%.
    • The global average of ‘skills stability’ – core skills that’ll stay the same – will be about 58%. There’ll be an average shift of 42% in required workplace skills.
    • Employees will require about 101 days of retraining and upskilling, in the period leading to 2022.

Leading experts agree that the big thing to note about i4.0 is that we don’t know what it will bring. But maybe it’s not as huge a shift as we think it is. The world has always been complex and ever-changing. It’s just the new pace of change that’s unprecedented. We don’t know what skills our workforce will need, but we do know the way of thinking that’s required.

The way we learn to learn will be different. We’ll have to adapt fast and think on our feet. We’ll need to navigate high levels of complexity and ambiguity. And we’ll have to get creative. Our education systems will need to change dramatically to accommodate shifting demands.

Jobs in demand in i4.0:

The WEF Future of Jobs report suggests in-demand future skills include analytical thinking, active learning and technology design, plus ‘human skills’, like complex critical thinking, creativity, originality, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and people management. Roles that are ‘in danger’ are those that are less creative, ambiguous and complex. Roles that require people to make a value judgement from an incomplete set of information are probably safe. Machines aren’t good at dealing with uncertainty, which is where humans’ aptitude for problem-solving is key.

How to future-proof Africa’s workforce:

PwC’s Workforce of the Future​ report emphasises the importance of ‘people, not jobs’. To prepare for an ‘automated Africa’, we need to forego protectionism and focus on making ongoing learning opportunities accessible to everyone. We should not protect jobs rendered redundant by tech; rather, we need to assist people to re-skill in order to capitalise on emerging opportunities – like ‘new collar jobs’. These jobs require very specific skills, but not necessarily a qualification like a bachelor’s degree. They could earn savvy skill-hustlers six-figure salaries, especially in tech.

"The world has always been complex and ever-changing. It’s just the new pace of change that’s unprecedented. We don’t know what skills our workforce will need, but we do know the way of thinking that’s required.”

Martin Butler, Programme Head at USB

To help the workforce accrue these skills, our education system needs to change. Educational institutes need to focus on quickly bridging skills gaps to instil specific capabilities and ways of thinking. Education providers need to become more responsive and adaptive to market demands and examine new ways of offering course materials – like ‘snackable’ online courses and microlearning. Additionally, they need to be ‘safe spaces’ for highly complex – and sometimes controversial – debates on ‘tough stuff’ like jobs in the world of AI.

From an organisational perspective, companies need to commit to re-skilling and upskilling their teams through continuous learning and training opportunities. WEF predicts 54% of all employees will need significant re-skilling by 2022, with a big focus on fostering human-machine collaborations​.

Finally, it’s up to each of us, at the level of the individual, to take responsibility for future-proofing our own skills. We need to actively pursue learning opportunities, learn to learn effectively, and recognise the importance of ‘soft’ and interpersonal skills. The biggest change required is an understanding that learning is no longer a once-off; agile learning is now a necessity throughout your life.


​​Martin Butler​ is the Programme Head of MBA at the USB​ and a facilitator on USB-ED's programmes.

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