Digital economy – reshaping the future of work and commerce…

Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2015, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, said, “I am most attached to the role of technology. Ultimately, for me, it’s about human capital and human potential, and technology enables humans to do great things. One should be optimistic about what technology can do in the hands of humans. »

The digital economy is at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and, as we have seen in recent years, we are undergoing seismic changes based on digital transformation, which refers to the adoption of digital technology to transform services or businesses.

In particular, the digital economy speaks of the economic activity that results from this digital transformation. This shift was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, as businesses that had quickly adapted to digital transformation were able to continue their systems and functions almost seamlessly. As Brian Armstrong wrote, “the digital economy will soon become the mainstream economy as the adoption – and application – of digital technologies across all sectors of the world grows.”

New innovations, insights and opportunities have emerged alongside the challenges of the pandemic, and together they present the possibility of a complex new era in human development – ​​one where the race for digital and technological innovation must occur alongside halting ecological decline and expanding social protection for those most at risk of dismissal, economic insecurity and impoverishment.

While countries globally have started the process of recovery, unemployment remains a vital problem. So how do we reframe our conception of work in a very different future from the one we have known in our lived history?

Just over a decade ago there was no need for social media managers and staying with the same company for your entire working life was commonplace. Now we have TikTok region managers, people to manage our Twitter pages, a gig economy that has trivialized having multiple jobs and redefining your role and moving on is quickly part of the new normal.

It is obvious that we cannot dismiss the concept of digital economy. So, in this context, how can we adequately prepare our young people, who face a staggering unemployment rate?

According to World Economic Forum (WEF) The Future of Jobs report, “the development and enhancement of human skills and capabilities through education, learning and meaningful work are key drivers of economic success, individual well-being and societal cohesion”.

According to global consultancy McKinsey & Company, you’ll need to excel in higher social, emotional, technological, and cognitive skills to stand a chance of participating in the digital economy. Consequently, our education system must be redefined. This partly refers to the re-skilling of the existing workforce.

It is recognized that there is a need to upskill and reskill workers to cope with new technologies and digitized processes, and employers have sought to accelerate the upskilling and reskilling processes and the implementation of the programs necessary for this. TO DO.

As new roles, opportunities and industries emerge, we are under pressure to close the gap between skills, automation and jobs now, before facing the global challenge of chronic unemployment. It is expected that in this new normal, there will be parity in the time worked between humans and machines, with human work being oriented towards management, advice, decision-making, reasoning, communication and interaction.

The Future of Jobs 2020 report suggests that while 85 million jobs could be lost by 2025 due to the change in the division of labour, 97 million new jobs could emerge over the same period in the 26 economies included in investigation.

So, with projections that gig, contract and gig work arrangements will become more prevalent, more coordinated policymaking and development is needed to help workers find meaningful employment that can support livelihoods. subsistence while developing holistic social supports that can offset the changes. in the nature of the work.

These include interventions that introduce transferable skills into public education systems, such as coding, robotics, and enhanced computer skills; rethink the nature and structure of higher, vocational and technical education to meet the needs of a changing labor market.

What this basically requires is a skills revolution, if you will. Yet, currently, South Africa remains woefully unprepared for this change. The question then becomes, how do we prepare our young people who face the prospect of unemployment? This feeds into some of the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on the 4IR, which published his report in 2020.

In particular, the commission, of which I was vice-president, calls for a rethinking of our human capacity development that will connect our entire pool of potential employees to productive and decent work. To achieve this, a holistic view of the entire human capital system must be developed, and the levers that can be accelerated by the 4IR must be identified.

What is being considered is a four-pronged approach. First, the government must prioritize the overhaul of the human capacity development ecosystem mentioned above. This will be facilitated by the Human Resource Development Council, assisted by the 4IR Committee and driven by the Digital Skills Forum.

Second, the private sector, comprised of both large enterprises and small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs), must define the skills required and collaborate on strategic mass skills development projects related to various industries.

Third, unions need to review their role in light of the 4IR and recommend appropriate protections for workers. These protections will need to be put in place in collaboration with the government.

Fourth, academic institutions ranging from schools and universities to technical and vocational education and training institutions need to review their curricula with a focus on the 4IRs to ensure the relevance of qualifications based on the required competencies and the principle of lifelong learning.

This paradigm shift represents the incalculable potential of youth entrepreneurship. As TechCrunch, a digital economy news site notes, “Uber, the largest taxi company in the world, does not own any vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, does not create any content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, doesn’t own any real estate… Something interesting is going on.

What is evident is that we are fundamentally reimagining the future of work and challenging traditional boundaries.

Human adaptability, after all, is integral to human nature and focuses on the flexibility with which humans, both individually and as populations, survive environmental challenges through biological and behavioral means. Our conclusion is that a changing world of work and a future that seems uncertain is not something to fear but rather something to accept.

The caveat, of course, is that our young people need to be equipped with the right skills to exploit these opportunities. DM

This article is based on a speech given at Youth Expo organized by the Motsepe Foundation.

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