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SA must get ready for the rise of hybrid jobs

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Dion Chang, trends analyst and the founder of Flux Trends.
Dion Chang, trends analyst and the founder of Flux Trends.

The evolution of the workforce in the digital age has meant companies are looking for professionals who have specialised hybrid, cross-industry skills, and SA must wake up to this reality.

This was the word from Dion Chang, trends analyst and founder of Flux Trends, presenting his latest trends report, titled “Square pegs and round holes: Why companies can’t innovate”, in Johannesburg last night.

Addressing a room full of delegates in Melrose Arch, Chang noted that in an era of disruption, every company is searching for the “holy grail of innovation”. While organisations understand the essence of disruption, most misunderstand the tools and dynamics needed to meet that disruption and therefore are unable to scale or implement the innovation process.

He discussed the impact of technology on current job expectations and the rapid rise of cross-industry hybrid skills that entail technical and creative thinking as a key mechanism to create a multi-skilled workforce capable of moving between different industries, and require constant upskilling and reskilling to keep pace with innovation.

“A lot more organisations are coming to the realisation that they need to change their approach to innovation,” said Chang.

“They need to bring in multi-skilled, talented people to the organisation, not only for the purpose of innovation, but also for workload efficiency. It’s not necessarily the new job positions that are cropping up, but it’s the need identified that is forcing them to create these new positions.”

While hybrid skills are a vital tool to use in developing an organisation’s workforce, this benefits both the company and the employee, who faces the constant risk of being displaced by technology.

He highlighted the opportunities of obtaining hybrid skills for workers, in an era of virtual workplaces, adding that South African companies are moving at a slow pace to accommodate this growing need for “flexible side-hustling”.

“As the workforce becomes fluid and agile, people are opting for side-hustling and flexibility, refusing to sell their soul only to one company. No matter their age, employees are juggling career portfolios that allow them to jump from industry to industry and this is where the trends are headed.

“Locally, we are seeing the appetite for this trend in employees, especially the young workforce, but most of corporate SA is not yet positioning itself for it – so we have a disjoint. The traditional mind-set still resonates in most organisations.”

Hybrid skills, the answer to unemployment

This week, stats SA revealed the unemployment rate in SA hit the highest level in more than 11 years, reaching 29%.

The high unemployment figures, even among graduates in SA, proves the belief that going to university and obtaining a qualification will guarantee a job, is far from reality, Chang pointed out.

He illustrated how moving away from confining themselves to one role or one sector can help employees build a varied skills-set that will allow them to work in cross-industries, opening up employment opportunities.

“This is where upskilling yourself through short courses and dipping your hands in different industries could play an important role. There are many governmental and private sector skills development initiatives available that people need to participate in to learn new skills and venture into other industries. With the right skills, job opportunities will be available, but this requires forward-thinking leaders to identify that talent, as it relates to their organisation.”

According to the latest South African ICT Skills Survey, despite the hype around the fourth industrial revolution in SA, there remains a chronic shortage of all types of ICT skills required to help local organisations succeed in the digital economy.

These include skills associated with the current set of emerging technologies, with artificial intelligence, Internet of things, blockchain, automation, data science and programming skills found to be the scarcest.

Citing the latest job positions organisations are searching for, Chang referenced adverts that he came across recently. This includes a Deloitte job post for a cloud computing and machine learning senior manager, while Nike is on the hunt for a cross-functional team leader – someone who doesn’t only manage a divisional team, but who also works across the different teams, increasing seamless functionality and collaboration across the organisation.

CEOs, he added, also need to evolve to chief learning officers and focus on learning how new technologies and innovative ideas can take their companies forward.

“When we look at where the digital era is taking us, we need to be able to change lanes at all times and blur the lines of divide. Silos must fall because this is what starts innovation; company leaders are not on the same page and it’s not always a vertical problem – it’s about thinking differently and putting together the different mind-sets and ideas,” he concluded.

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