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The future is digital — we need to do more to unlock...

Business Maverick

PRODUCTIVITY POTENTIAL

The future is digital — we need to do more to unlock the hidden potential of this new age

(Image: iStock)

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, technological innovations have changed the way we work and they should be enthusiastically embraced, especially by young people who are more geared for the future.

‘The future of work is a moving target. We can’t say what it looks like as it is ever-evolving… It doesn’t have a window or a door that we step in and step out of,” said Mthunzi Mdwaba, chairperson of Productivity SA, at the Future of Work roundtable event hosted by Uber South Africa on 17 May.

Although business and society have been disrupted by the pandemic, it has also presented opportunities to seize the rapid digital transformation that has come with it.

From hybrid working models to more flexible working hours and earning opportunities, digital transformation has been the biggest mover in South Africa’s future of work.

Nkanyiso Ngqulunga, a legal researcher and columnist, defines the future of work as the ability to understand the new dimensions brought forward by the opportunities from the “gig economy”; that is, temporary or flexible jobs and technology. He says technology has brought a new dimension to how people determine and perceive their work.

More than 60% of South African young people are unemployed. So, asked Mdwaba, why are we not embracing digital platforms that can create opportunities for these young people who are geared for the future?

He says there is resistance by some to tap into a future characterised by a combination of human skills and technology. This is a result of attitudes towards change and technology, he says.

“As a people, we don’t all like change, yet still we want change. The future of work is not rigid and is continuously moving, forcing us to adapt to the technology. Technology cannot be controlled. Innovation will happen, whether we like it or not. But as soon as we talk about digital platforms, people go into a panic.”

Leaving no one behind

Sihle Gcilitshana, programme coordinator at Civic Tech Innovation Network, said: “We live in a world where technology is shaping the future of work and continuously changing the environment, and we need to create an inclusive, diverse, human-centred society that can prosper within an environment of technology and change.

“The idea is not to leave anyone behind. But how do we do this? It’s ensuring the quality of the process as well as the quality of the outcome. 

“Social impact strategy for sustainability should be integrated into digital innovation from the beginning.”

Ngqulunga says South Africa’s regulatory framework needs to be balanced between people and technology: “There seems to be a disjuncture between governments and society at large; how they respond to technology. When you look into legislation and how governments understand the emerging technological society, they still think it can be regulated using the old ways.

“The issue here is how the regulatory system can advance social intervention… to ensure that people are secure. In the regulatory framework, we need to harmonise the needs on the ground with what has been provided through the digital landscape, and not discard these opportunities. Perhaps a global convention is a good start.”

According to Ofentse Mokwena, strategic projects lead for Uber sub-Saharan Africa: “The biggest questions we face going forward is how to adapt, retain empathy and remain human in the process of the floating nature of entrepreneurship in South Africa.

“What we see today in SA’s marketplace is so diverse in technology and an opportunity to unlock an industrial landscape that doesn’t exist [yet]. It’s like a cumulative stokvel, where people own the means of production, have low costs to execute on service and interact with the customer directly.

“The future of work is already here and we need to determine mechanisms to make it fair and make it an opportunity to unlock unseen potential.” DM

A version of this story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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