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Choosing a career as an engineer of driverless cars would not have been a course of action for anyone even 10 years ago. Yet today, this is one of the most in-demand positions in the market. The development and discovery of blockchains have revolutionised the information technology world, yet that was an unknown concept only a few years ago.

By looking at the kind of jobs that are in demand now but which did not exist 10 years ago, researchers at the University of Pretoria (UP) can better understand what needs to be done to ensure that its students and the larger workforce are equipped for the future. 

With ideas like this in mind, UP launched the Centre for the Future of Work (CFoW), a research hub that aims to be the key African excellence centre for investigating the future of work, producing scientific and popular publications, and providing advisory services and training. It will prepare the University’s students for future jobs that they might need to excel in, and help organisations or institutions future-proof their workforce by determining what is required to reskill, upskill and train their employees.

“We are living in a continuously changing environment and we need to create an inclusive, diverse, human-centred society that can prosper within an environment of technology and change,” says Professor Natasja Holtzhausen, Director of the CFoW. “This is in line with the concept of Society 5.0, a system where the combination of human skills, collaborative robotics and artificial intelligence complement one another in the service of humanity and the planet.”

The CFoW is regarded as a collaborative effort: academics, government stakeholders, international researchers, corporate players and entrepreneurs will all play a critical role in identifying potential gaps in the future market. 

Guidance from researchers, government, the business sector and those with expertise in social responsibility are critical to maintaining support for the centre. As such, the CFoW has an advisory board structure in place that includes University stakeholders, deans from all UP’s faculties, and senior members from the local and international private and public sectors. 

Working models are in a state of flux. The lifting of certain barriers will drastically change current models that are in place. The changes seen in healthcare, for example, have removed boundaries and location-based jobs – for instance, virtual consultations have meant that a doctor in KwaZulu-Natal can provide a diagnosis if someone is based in Johannesburg. Hybrid office working models are already a reality, and there are more entrepreneurs and contract workers than ever before. 

But the advancement of information technology and artificial intelligence will mean that tasks will require less human intervention in the workplace, which could spell disaster for jobs. 

To mitigate the likelihood of job losses, the CFoW intends to offer relearning models to those who will need to take up new skills in order to keep pace with an ever-changing environment. In addition, the centre seeks to provide guidance in terms of creating and maintaining a work-life balance in the world of work.

Also, with the speed at which technology is developing, it is essential that the CFoW and UP’s faculties keep up with and predict future trends of work. The curriculum for each faculty needs to be fluid enough to change and take up new concepts much faster than ever before. This is why information technology and software development is at the forefront of the centre’s operations. 

By harnessing the power of technology and a reskilled workforce, it is our hope that initiatives such as the CFoW will contribute to bringing Africa into Society 5.0 with the rest of the world. 

For more information about UP’s Centre for the Future of Work, go to www.up.ac.za/centre-for-the-future-of-work  DM 


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