A primary topic of discussion as technological change moves ever faster, is what effect automation will have on jobs. Thanks to the phenomenal recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, it is certain that the future job market will be different from that of today. The only question is precisely how it will differ, so we reached out to Dr Cobus Oosthuizen, Dean of Milpark Business School to share sentiments on exactly what the future brings
Historically, technology has always resulted in the creation of new jobs and new industries, with the numbers of newly created jobs generally outweighing the numbers of jobs lost. It’s important to remember that technological development plays a fundamental role in the growth rate of the broader economy, and also affects the respective market share of companies in any particular sector. Economies that manage to effectively and efficiently deploy new technologies throughout society can create new areas of employment in their countries. However, these new areas will require a qualified and skilled workforce.
To get this newly skilled workforce on stream as quickly as possible, and to ensure a country gains economic advantage, skills gaps need to quickly be identified. From here, education and training interventions need to be developed around what is possible, what is probable, what is plausible, and what is preferred.
With this in mind, it is clear that adjusting educational policies should be a priority for South Africa. At the same time, the private sector needs to take responsibility for the training and development of its workforce to ensure that we develop human resources with qualifications and skillsets that support the needs of our industries and that drive economic growth. This process is not simply one of replacing an existing set of skills with a new one. It is a process that expands the economy. To use a simplified example, today there are far more people employed in the automotive trade than there ever were in the horse-and-carriage industry, which it replaced.
the private sector needs to take responsibility for the training and development of its workforce
There is no reason why the market for jobs should not expand as a result of automation. One thing is, however, pivotal – lifelong learning. Waves of technological disruption could potentially displace entire job categories and make certain skill sets redundant. As a result, the traditional model of “acquiring an education”, followed by skills development, will be inadequate. Instead, lifelong learning becomes essential. In place of standardised degrees, a more modular approach to create personalised learning paths holds much promise in aiding lifelong learning.
Driverless transportation could eliminate tens of millions of jobs around the world. Smart AI systems could displace tens of millions more, starting with customer-service representatives and office assistants, then moving on to education, medicine, finance and accounting. It will be a rough transition for many, though in the longer term there is no reason why the market for jobs should not expand and employment even increase.
The nature of jobs may change for the better, too, as algorithms deal with monotonous tasks no one desires anyway.
How commerce, industry and economies adjust to the technological advances ahead will be one of the biggest social and political challenges of the next decade. Jobs will be destroyed, but many will be created, and it is those who upskill themselves to keep pace who will reap the benefits.