The power of technology can and should be harnessed to create sustainable employment

This article first appeared on The Daily Impact

We are all aware of the challenge of unemployment in South Africa. In the Stats SA report for the second quarter of 2021, the unemployment rate hit a staggering 34.4%. That’s 7.8 million people without work. Even more concerning is that the unemployment number went up from the first quarter by a whopping 584,000 people. The ongoing disruption to labour markets by the Fourth Industrial Revolution was accelerated by the onset of the pandemic-related recession of 2020.

A lot has been said and written about technology making specific jobs obsolete with the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. My personal experience is that technology can provide opportunities to tackle unemployment head-on, not least of all through online learning and preparation for future jobs.

The rapidly changing job market

We find ourselves at the start of the Fourth Industrial Revolution globally, where the rapidly evolving occupational landscape is introducing jobs that did not exist five to ten years ago. Technology is accelerating the disruption of multiple industries, including education. In addition, studies have shown that jobs are at a higher risk of being displaced by automation and programmed devices. 

I believe that many future jobs don’t yet exist. Therefore, we need to be intentional about changing the education and learning environment before our youth reach the age of employability. Their training for life in the Fourth Industrial Revolution should start in primary school, focusing on laying mathematical, computational and analytical foundations. 

Education is available and accessible

Studies have also shown that recent IT advances offer new and more accessible ways to access education. With technology being easily scalable, one online teacher can give lessons to children in hundreds of classrooms and different locations. Still, it requires educational authorities, governments, and parents to work together with purpose, intentionality, and the right frameworks to build the future workforce.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report of 2020 shows that:

It is our actions today that will determine whether we head towards massive displacement of workers or the emergence of new opportunities.”

We don’t have the luxury of time that previous industrial revolutions had. The WEF report highlights that companies can no longer be passive consumers of ready-made human capital, and governments urgently need to rethink the entire educational model.

For a talent revolution to take place, governments and businesses will need to profoundly change their approach to education, skills and employment, and their approach to working with each other. Businesses will need to put talent development and future workforce strategy front and centre to their growth.”

It will take collaboration and focus

Businesses should work closely with governments, education providers, and other stakeholders to imagine an actual 21st-century curriculum.

The tech sector opened up opportunities for those who didn’t have the financial resources for entry to specific sectors or industries of employment. Technology has levelled many parts of the playing field for those who have been previously disadvantaged. 

Internet access should be a fundamental human right, and technology must be used wisely, not just for surfing YouTube and other social media platforms. Being distracted online won’t prepare anyone for the 4IR. 

What we need to teach our workforce of the future

  • Adaptability. Across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes shortens the shelf-life of employees’ existing skill sets. People may require a very different skillset in just a few years as the digital economy continues evolving.
  • Technological prowess and an understanding of analytics
  • Financial inclusion and digital banking 
  • Innovation. As unemployment figures rise, it is of increasing urgency to expand social protection. This protection includes retraining displaced and at-risk workers as they navigate towards opportunities for the ‘jobs of tomorrow’.
  • Integration of technology for application in what we do every day 
  • STEM subjects 
  • Critical thinking rather than role learning 
  • To use technology for learning not mindless consuming
  • Soft skills 

Technology empowers self-employment

Uber is probably the perfect example. Uber disrupted the taxi industry by introducing a purely tech-driven business model. They didn’t need to invest in vehicles, drivers, or much office space to grow a global brand almost overnight. They were a conduit between the possible and impossible, between the haves and have-nots by casting and fulfilling their vision of Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone.

Uber introduced a tech-based business model to the market that inspired hope for people battling to put bread on the table. In turn, drivers and car owners became Uber brand ambassadors. Uber put the power in the hands of the citizens to create employment for themselves. It was in the best interest of the car owner and driver to make it work. 

The Uber story is one of many case studies that we will witness in our lifetime. If corporates and brands can adopt a paradigm shift in how we see the marketing of goods and services, we can tackle the poverty we see around us every day. 

Tech platform SmartWill, a homegrown case study

When all is said, things still need to get done. It’s excellent to have ideas and make suggestions, but we need to get to the practical level before it’s too late. We have decided to take a proactive approach to what we are suggesting. We don’t just want to put forth lofty thoughts and sound to care but rather provide a real-life case study that is homegrown.

We have the vision to create employment in South Africa (FundSA) using a marketing model that places the power in the citizen’s hands. We will create brand ambassadors that promote our tech product, SmartWill, and they’ll get paid for it. 

People trust people and word of mouth is still the most potent form of advertising. Instead of feeding the marketing monsters like Facebook and Google in the hope of pushing products and lining our pockets, we want to turn ordinary citizens into brand ambassadors that promote and earn from a tech product like SmartWill.