In South Africa, it is estimated that the unemployment rate for the youth younger than 25, using the expanded definition, which includes discouraged workers, is a shockingly high 67.4%. With such alarming unemployment statistics, compounded by poverty and a lack of access to quality education, future leaders must think long and hard about creating sustainable job opportunities in an increasingly technology-driven world.

Technological revolution brings about plenty of opportunities to enhance the way we work. In an increasingly digitised world, humans can now perform some functions in a matter of hours, minutes and even seconds, what took years to perform during the first industrial revolution. The fourth industrial revolution is here. But what does it mean and how should futuristic individuals and organisations respond to such rapid changes?

During the first industrial revolution, people used water and steam power for the production of goods and services. As the second industrial revolution emerged, electric power was used to generate mass production. Information technology and electronics were used to automate production during the third industrial revolution. Today, the fourth industrial revolution is marked by a combination of complex technologies that is distorting the lines between biological, physical and digital environments. This revolution is bringing about a new era in the way humans work and perform functions.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that there are 71-million unemployed 15-to-24-year-olds worldwide. Unemployment among young people aged 15–24 years old in sub-Saharan Africa has hovered between 12% and 14%. This is higher than the 9–10% in South Asia over the same period, according to the World Bank.

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has been at the centre of global affairs for over four decades. He is convinced that we are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another, which he explores in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“Ubiquitous, mobile supercomputing. Intelligent robots. Self-driving cars. Neuro-technological brain enhancements. Genetic editing. The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed,” says Schwab.

“The resulting shifts and disruptions mean that we live in a time of great promise and great peril. The world has the potential to connect billions more people to digital networks, dramatically improve the efficiency of organisations and even manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the natural environment, potentially undoing the damage of previous industrial revolutions,” he adds.                                                        

Schwab says that leaders and citizens of the world must “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

A recent study by PwC shows that we are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and "thinking machines" are replacing human tasks and jobs, and changing the skills that organisations need in their people. The pace of this change is highly accelerated. The study, which was conducted at the Said Business School in Oxford, commissioned a survey of 10 000 people in China, India, Germany, the UK and the US, providing unique insights on people anticipate the future workplace and how this will impact their employment opportunities and future working lives. One of the key findings of the study was that 73% of the respondents believed that technology can never replace the human mind, while 37% were worried about automation putting their jobs at risk.

Nana Serapelo is the human resources manager at Datacentrics, an ICT solutions provider in Midrand, Johannesburg. She says that there is a growing misconception that only lower level or blue-collar jobs will be replaced by technology. “While technology has automated a lot of traditional roles and also enabled assisted automation – its impact will not only be felt by poor people. Those who only view the future in terms of class and seniority may be in for a shock.”

“Artificial intelligence impacts everyone – from self-driving vehicles and drones to virtual assistants. The opportunity for future career seekers is to invest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, that on its own is insufficient. You have to practise other soft skills such as emotional intelligence, which machines cannot teach. Leadership, teamwork and punctuality are some of the key skills that cannot be replaced by technology,” says Serapelo.

According to Valter Adão, the chief digital and innovation officer at Deloitte, preparing for a digital future is no easy task. “It means developing digital capabilities in which a company’s activities, people, culture, and structure are in sync and aligned toward a set of organisational goals,” he says. “Most companies, however, are constrained by a lack of resources, a lack of talent, and the pull of other priorities, leaving executives to manage digital initiatives that either take the form of projects or are limited to activities within a given division, function, or channel.”

"Yet some companies are transcending these constraints, achieving digital capabilities that cut across the enterprise. Our research found that nearly 90% of digitally maturing businesses – those in which digital technology has transformed processes, talent engagement, and business models - are integrating their digital strategy with the company’s overall strategy. Managers in these digitally maturing companies are much more likely to believe that they are adequately preparing for the industry disruptions they anticipate arising from digital trends,” says Adão.

“Companies that give their senior executives, senior management and managers the resources and opportunities to develop themselves in a digital environment are more likely to retain their talent,” he says.

Employment expert Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co, Insource ICT and IT Edge – the specialised recruitment agencies of ADvTECH Resourcing – says becoming a SMART worker (specialist, mobile, adaptable, resilient and talented) will be the key to surviving and thriving in the new world of work.

“Within the next decade – and we are already seeing this happening to some degree – the traditional employer/employee relationship will be largely a thing of the past,” says Barrick, adding that by 2030, historical workplace structures will overwhelmingly have been replaced by the concept of workers as consultants and their own bosses, who sell their services to client companies.

Be SMART and future-proof your career prospects

“SMART is an acronym for the profile of future-fit workers: specialist, mobile, adaptable, resilient and talented. Being SMART will be the key to surviving and thriving in the new world of work,” says Barrick.

Barrick says the driving forces behind the changing work environment include rapid and ongoing technological innovation, which is responsible for the disruption of historic industries and old economic systems. This gives rise to new industries and jobs, but also means that an estimated 50% of all jobs currently in existence – including white-collar roles – will become automated.

Four major trends that will impact the world of work over the next 15 years


“Globally, we are seeing a continuation of the growing trend towards short-term work. According to the International Labour Organisation’s ‘The Changing Nature of Jobs’, 75% of the global workforce is currently employed on temporary or short-term contracts.


Already, the idea that you study and then use what you’ve learned to follow a career at one company throughout your life has become obsolete, notes Barrick. “Lifelong learning, where workers constantly reskill or renew skills every five years, is becoming the norm,” she says.


“The emphasis is shifting away from chasing money at all costs to a focus on critical values, like work/life balance, happiness and fulfilment,” says Barrick.


Technology already enables remote work and, as fibre becomes the norm in South Africa, internet speed is no longer the inhibitor it was 10 years ago. “Over the next 15 years, it’s predicted that rapid technological innovation will promote 24/7 work performed by employees in different geographic locations and time zones. The traditional notion of a ‘corner office’ as we know it today will become obsolete as workers work remotely, hot desk and collaborate in ways we can’t yet imagine.”

The 10 best jobs for the future

1.    App developer

2.    Computer systems analyst

3.    Nurse practitioner

4.    Physical therapist

5.    Health services manager

6.    Physician assistant

7.    Dental hygienist

8.    Market research analyst

9.    Personal financial adviser

10. Speech/language pathologist