Half of SA’s workforce feels threatened by job automation

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Much has been said about automation in the workplace, with employers urged to re-skill their employees to take on new roles within the business as a means to remain employed. Consequently, there is a lot of fear when it comes to job automation and the past year under the spectre of a pandemic has only exacerbated issues.

According to a recent study titled, Decoding Global Reskilling and Career Paths, commissioned by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and The Network, along with the assistance of local partner organisation CareerJunction, a little over half of the 1 421 South Africans surveyed have expressed fears over job automation.

53 percent to be more precise, as job security becomes an increasing concern in the COVID-19 era.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the rate at which employers are being forced to lay off staff or shutter their doors entirely, over two thirds (77 percent) of those surveyed noted an interest in being retrained for a new role should their current one be made obsolete as a result of automation.

This willingness, or acceptance of a need to adapt, appears to be the only silver lining in this situation.

“The pandemic and the increasing speed of technological disruption have prompted people to question their chosen career paths. Almost seven in ten people say they are open to retraining that would allow them to switch to completely different job roles. This level of flexibility could help employers and governments that are worried about preparing their workforces for the future,” explains Rainer Strack, one of the authors of the study and a senior partner at BCG.

“Retraining willingness is highest among workers who have fared worst during the pandemic or have the most concern about automation. This includes workers in service-sector, customer service, and sales roles. Those in job roles seen as less vulnerable—health and medicine, social work, and science and research—generally aren’t as ready to switch careers,” adds a press release sent to Hypertext regarding the study.

Diving deeper into the results of the study, which was also carried about in other parts of the globe and includes an estimated 209 000 respondents, the economic fallout has been worst for the young and least educated. This as almost half of those under 20, and an equal proportion of people with only a high school qualification, have lost income during the pandemic.

As for what types of jobs people are willing to retrain for, digital and information technology fields top the list, with more than 20 percent of people currently working in artistic or creative jobs saying they would retrain for a digital job. The same goes for those currently in consulting or media in terms of the global numbers.

Locally that retraining process has already begun in earnest, particularly among older demographics.

“71% of workers in South Africa spend a significant time on learning, which is slightly more compared to 65% of global respondents. Learning among the younger generation is similar in South Africa to global trends,” notes Rudi van Blerk, principal and recruiting director at BCG Johannesburg.

“However, learning is more widespread in the older generation compared to their global counterparts, with 74% of South African respondents aged 51-60 years old and 60% of respondents above 60 years old who spend a significant time learning. This is higher than the global average of 54% and 53% respectively,” he points out.

If this study shows us anything, it is that while there is indeed fear over job automation, there is even greater desire to reskill and retrain. Now it is up to employers and businesses to come to the party and assist their staff in transitioning.

You can read the full report, as well as two preceding studies from the Boston Consulting Group here.

[Image – Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.