Fear of automation greatest among those getting fewest opportunities to upskill

Fear of automation greatest among those getting fewest opportunities to upskill

CAPE TOWN – In the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution at least 56 percent of South African adults worry that automation would put jobs at risk, according to new research carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The PwC report released on Tuesday revealed that when asked about their current job specifically, only 16 percent of adults said they were nervous or scared about the future impact of technology, with women feeling more nervous than men – 21 percent vs 12 percent.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the 4IR commission announced in April, said in July that South Africa must embrace the 4IR and harness the opportunities it offered in order to eradicate the biggest challenges faced by society. 

4IR is the global trend in which new technologies such as the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are changing the way people live and work.

At least 70 percent of South African workers feel positive about the future impact of technology on their jobs. While the number is higher than European counterparts – 61 percent for the UK and 52 percent for France – it is still a contrast to India and China where 88 percent and 85 percent respectively take the same view, even accounting for cultural bias.

The report found that while 53 percent of workers surveyed globally believed automation would significantly change or make their job obsolete within the next 10 years, the majority, 61 percent, were positive about the impact of technology on their day-to-day work, and 77 percent of people would learn new skills now or completely retrain to improve their future employability.  

“People given 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,” the report stated. 

The research surveyed 22 000 people across 11 countries worldwide such as the UK, US, South Africa, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, France, China, India, Singapore and Poland, and build on PwC’s economic analysis on the impact of automation on jobs.

Chantal Maritz, Strategy& digital transformation lead at PwC said all over the world jobs were changing 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. 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,” said Maritz.

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

The World Economic Forum believes nearly two-thirds of children entering school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist. 

Cathy Smith, MD for SAP Africa speaking at this year’s WEF Africa event said preparing the youth for this uncertain future requires new thinking around issues of education and skills development. “In Africa, where the youth population – those aged between 15 and 24 – is expected to more than double to 450 million by 2055, there is an urgent need to radically rethink how we prepare our youth to be active participants in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

South Africa’s youth face numerous socio-economic challenges including unemployment, poverty and inequality. High unemployment rates among youth 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.