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The Future of Work – New Approaches for New Times

Universities throughout history have shaped and been shaped by catalytic developments in society, including scientific and technological revolutions, wars, colonialism, globalisation, and pandemics. Currently, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the Covid-19 pandemic are having a massive impact on the future of work.

Universities need to play a central role in society and graduate preparedness, ensuring that our students are appropriately skilled for a work world where 85% of the jobs that they enter into have not been invented yet. Given the critical importance of this task, the University of Pretoria will launch its Centre for the Future of Work, which will collaboratively produce transdisciplinary research to advance the knowledge field of the future of work to the benefit of South Africa, Africa, and the rest of the international community. 

The University of Pretoria has already made considerable inroads into ascertaining which essential skills need to be developed for our graduates to actualise themselves and function optimally in the workplace, as well as contribute to the developmental aspirations of South Africa and Africa. We have incorporated a rich curriculum which includes fundamental and foundational skills in mathematics, stochastics, programming, electronics, and other STEM-based disciplines, to prepare for an exhilarating landscape which features artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things and big data including powers we can only imagine and significantly impacting on trajectories of work. We have the Multichoice-funded Chair in Machine Learning, which will help grow the country’s pool of talent in AI, Machine Learning and cybersecurity for the digital future.

We also focus on soft skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, which are necessary in an ever-changing information society, along with aspects pertaining to professional practice, communication skills, ethics, human values, environmental and social responsibility and cultivating the habit of lifelong learning. 

Entrepreneurship is now widely recognised as being important as postgraduate studies, and is a major driver of innovation and job creation. Through TuksNovation, a non-profit company owned by the University of Pretoria, high-tech job creations developed by students are given support for their incubation, development, and opportunities for commercialisation of technology with industry partners, venture capitalists and other funding agencies. This is in collaboration with the Department of Small Business, Department of Trade and Industry and the Small Enterprise Development Agency. 

Growing the local tech side through micro and small businesses with our local communities is another essential engagement focus area, to enable people who do not have the benefit of education to create self-employment. 

The combination of a highly skilled, future fit pool of graduates, together with social and community impact, is what is needed to achieve African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with SDG 8 calling for the promotion of sustained and inclusive economic growth and “full and productive employment and decent work for all”. It’s a gigantic, highly stimulating challenge. How we achieve it is in our hands, and we need to make our actions today matter, for the sake of tomorrow. DM



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