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Digital Empowerment Will Not Cut Jobs

by Aadil Patel

While there is a lot of information being published and debate taking place about the digital economy, the gig economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a lot of it is overhyped and needs to be demystified.

Much of the discussion around digital transformation and the adoption of new technologies simply create unnecessary hype and leads to fear mongering around employment.

This is especially unfortunate at a time when South Africa is battling a rising unemployment rate and the fear of joblessness is playing heavily on many people’s minds.

According to figures recently released by Stats SA, the unemployment rate in South Africa rose to 27.6% in the first quarter of 2019, from 27.1% in the previous period. It is the highest jobless rate since Q3 2017, as the number of unemployed went up by 62 000, to 6.2 million, and employment fell by 237 000, to 16.29 million.

There seems to be a concern among a large number of people who fear that the implementation of new technology and new ways of doing work would lead to job cuts.

Well, it wouldn’t. Simply put, just like the fax, email and internet did not lead to redundancy, nor will digital transformation. People simply have to adapt and enhance their skills.

That is why it is important for organisations to drive the digital empowerment of their workforces, as this will have a positive impact on business growth, which is crucial to the survival of any business.

The implementation of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will not replace a human workforce, but it will take over repetitive tasks and free up people to perform more creative and interesting tasks.

However, digital empowerment is also fundamentally important, as a new generation of tech-savvy people are entering the job market and companies will have no choice but to create a whole new space of work for these people.

Organisations need to start thinking differently about the concept of work. For instance, five years ago, we did not think that you could make money as a social media specialist, yet there is now a great demand for those type of skills.


Aadil Patel, National Practice Head and Director of the Employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr (CDH),

This means, that for digital empowerment to be successfully implemented, employers and employees will be required to recognise opportunities that simply did not exist before.

The concept of what work has also been steadily changing, with many people starting to see it more as an activity rather than a location. Soon, the idea of a ‘9 to 5’ job will most likely become obsolete, as the new generation of workers seek the flexibility of being able to work when and where they feel most productive.

In addition, organisations will need to recognise the power of technology and how it can transform an organisation into a digital workspace. Technology will drive a fundamental change in how work is done and how it can enhance the performance of employees.

And those who embrace it will have to upskill at an educational level.

Yet, this is also the biggest challenge. People find it difficult to enhance their skill sets and fear to have to do it.

At the same time, people also don’t realise that as they create new skill sets for themselves, they are also creating new prospects.

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