Jobs of the future need new skills – but can South Africa deliver?
Rapid changes in the world of work, driven by innovations in fields such as artificial intelligence and green energy, are going to demand training in new areas of expertise. Is South Africa up to the task?
We’ve all heard this statistic, or some variation of it, in recent years. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that 65% of children in Grade 1 this year will eventually work in jobs that don’t exist today.
South Africa is already grappling with 32% unemployment, but it also needs to contend with the possibility of most current jobs being lost to technological advances.
The WEF Future of Jobs 2023 report says the impact of most technologies on jobs is expected to be a net positive over the next five years.
“Big data analytics, climate change and environmental management technologies and encryption and cybersecurity are expected to be the biggest drivers of job growth. Agriculture technologies, digital platforms and apps, e-commerce and digital trade and AI [artificial intelligence] are all expected to result in significant labour market disruption, with substantial proportions of companies forecasting job displacement in their organisations,” the report says.
Most of the fastest-growing roles are related to technology. AI and machine learning specialists top the list of fast-growing jobs, followed by sustainability specialists, business intelligence analysts and information security analysts.
Solar energy installation and system engineers also have rapidly expanding roles as economies shift towards renewable energy.
Jobs in education are expected to grow by about 10%, or three million additional jobs. Jobs for agricultural professionals, especially agricultural equipment operators, are expected to increase by up to 30%, creating an additional three million jobs globally.
Candice Moodley, corporate services executive at the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta), says that skills in operating renewable energy and energy-efficiency systems are coming into South Africa from abroad.
“Our youth need maths and science subjects to pursue careers in the water and energy sectors,” she says.
An example of changing technology is the microgrids that are being introduced by Eskom to supply green power. Nick Singh, manager of the smart grid centre of excellence at Eskom’s research testing and development division, says the microgrids could be deployed very fast, within three days, and that a 62kW unit could power 50 houses.
“There is now a microgrid assembly facility at Komati, and we can produce up to 1,000 microgrids per year. It’s a very effective assembly line, while creating jobs and upskilling. We have an arrangement with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology for training, all while stimulating the economy. While you are taking away the traditional coal-fired power station, you are still utilising the people in the community and the workers, and bridge that gap with training.”
An industry in crisis
Wendy Poulton, of the South African National Energy Association, says industry is in crisis and focuses far too much on technical skills.
“The decentralisation, automation and AI trends are resulting in a shift in the type of jobs, and this is very seldom looked at when we are designing skills programmes,” she says.
“Emerging energy markets are driving new types of jobs. For example, municipalities are now going to have to [negotiate deals] with embedded generators in their areas. Are they skilled up to do that?”
Poulton says that although there is adequate supply on the education side, there is no telling how job volumes will increase.
New skills will be needed. As the energy crisis takes on global proportions, she says, such skills are likely to be in demand globally, which means retaining them in South Africa could become a problem.
Aradhna Pandarum, of the Energy Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, agrees that the topic of skills and training is “significantly lacking in the just energy transition discussion”.
She points out that a paltry 1% of the R1.5-trillion in projected spending on education is allocated to skills development.
“If we look at the Renewable Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, it has been developed over 10 years now, but we … are importing skills to develop some of those projects and parts of the value chains.
“So this is why we need to significantly focus on the skills development that is required for technologies.”
The recently launched Atlas of Emerging Jobs – a joint initiative between the FoodBev Manufacturing Seta and the BRICS Business Council Skills Development Working Group – details new, redundant and transforming jobs in the sector.
Sherrie Donaldson, director of the Atlas project, says the idea is to create a pipeline of skills for future jobs that will ensure that South African businesses can be competitive against their BRICS counterparts.
Nokuthula Selamolela, chief executive officer at the FoodBev Manufacturing Seta, says South Africa’s food and beverage manufacturing sector, which employs nearly 190,000 people, faces internal and external pressures. The most significant is technological change. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.