South Africans believe automation threatens jobs

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A significant number of South Africans surveyed in a new PwC study want government to take action and protect jobs from automation.

The survey, Hope and Fear 2021, found people are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk and the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked the need for government intervention.

In SA, automation is extremely concerning, as the country has an unemployment rate that is among the highest in the world, and the pandemic has only served to exacerbate this challenge, says the report.

According to the study, as companies accelerate their automation plans and many jobs continue to be remote, employees across every sector will need to acquire new skills that enable them to think and work in different ways.

In the study, 32 500 workers in 19 countries were interviewed and painted a picture of a global workforce that sees the shift to remote working as just the tip of the iceberg.

Reflecting the fact that COVID-19 has accelerated a number of workforce trends, 60% of workers globally (compared to 72% in South Africa) are worried that automation is putting many jobs at risk, 48% believe “traditional employment won't be around in the future” and 39% think it is likely their job will be obsolete within five years.

In SA, 59% of respondents agree that “traditional employment won’t be around in the future” and 67% believe few people will have stable long-term employment in the future.

The report says 61% of employees globally (South Africa: 73%) want their government to take action to protect jobs from automation.

However, the study says it’s not all gloom, because since the outbreak of COVID-19, 37% of South Africans say they have adequate digital skills to enable them to cope in their current working environment and 94% of workers say they are ready to learn new skills or completely retrain in order to remain employable in the near future.

Furthermore, it says, the majority of respondents globally (80%) are confident they can adapt to new technologies entering their workplace, with 66% of those asked in South Africa saying they are “very” confident.

In addition, 49% of respondents globally (South Africa: 77%) are focused on building entrepreneurial skills with an interest in setting up their own business.

Barry Vorster, PwC HR technology and culture leader, says: “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of work, forcing many employees into a fully remote work environment and challenging employers to rethink how they support and engage their workforce.

“The future isn’t a fixed destination. We need to plan for dynamic rather than static tomorrows.”

Workplace intolerance

Additionally, the survey reveals how half of the workforce surveyed report missing out on career opportunities or training due to prejudice.

According to the survey, 50% of workers say they’ve faced discrimination at work, which led to them missing out on career advancement or training. Some 13% report missing out on opportunities as a result of ethnicity and 14% have experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender, with women twice as likely to report gender discrimination as men.

Some 13% reported discrimination on the basis of class, with post-graduates and others with higher qualifications more likely to report prejudice. Younger people are as likely as older people to report discrimination based on age, says the survey.

Locally, 32% of females and 14% of males say they have been overlooked for career advancement based on gender discrimination. Furthermore, 45% of males and 43% of females say they have also missed out on career advancement or access to training on the grounds of race or ethnicity.

“For businesses, the pursuit of a diverse and inclusive workplace isn’t just about doing the right thing. Studies have come to the same conclusion: diversity is good for business.

“Inclusive teams lead to different perspectives, creative thinking and open collaboration. A diverse workforce and deliberate inclusion efforts help drive better outcomes that can actually lead to the broader economic development of our society, which benefits everyone,” Vorster comments.

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