The impact of job automation in South Africa

The report shows that 5.7 million jobs are at risk of being automated in a country where rampant unemployment is yet to be dealt with.

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The impact of job automation in South Africa
Brick-laying robot. A new report shows that most jobs in South Africa can be automated.
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Over one third of jobs in South Africa can be automated thanks to digital technologies on jobs and economies, a new report released by research firm Accenture that highlights the impact of job automation in South Africa has shown.

The report dubbed, Reworking the Revolution: Are you ready to compete as intelligent technology meets human ingenuity to create the future workforce? shows that investing in digital technologies can help the country experience a major economic growth.

“By investing in intelligent technologies and human-machine collaboration, businesses could boost revenues by 38 percent by 2022 and raise employment levels by 10 percent,” the report states.

Dr. Roze Phillips the managing director of Accenture notes that with digital technologies, it is possible to overcome physical limitations of capital and labour, expose new sources of value and growth as well as increase efficiency and drive competitiveness.

However, job automation in South Africa cannot reach 100 percent.According to Mr Phillips, Hard-to-automate jobs (those with less than 25 risk of automation) include tasks like influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers.

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On the other hand, jobs of  clerks, cashiers, tellers, construction-, mining- and maintenance workers can all be automated.

But with 35 percent of jobs at risk of automation, means that in the short term south Africa could experience major job losses. With a fragile economy and growing unemployment, especially youth unemployment, further job losses in South Africa could have a crippling effect, observes the report.

Job losses will impact not just individuals and their families, they impact the economy. “Workers are also customers,” Phillips explains. “Without an income, they have little to no purchasing power to drive demand for utilities and the products and services of government and the private sector. This can bring economic growth to a standstill.”

Yet if South Africa can double the pace at which its workforce acquires skills relevant for human-machine collaboration, it can reduce the number of jobs at risk from 20 percent (3.5 million jobs) in 2025 to just 14 percent (2.5 million).

At its current rate of learning, South Africa will shift to ‘running-with-the-machine’ activities (those that require more human-like skills) slower than other developed countries, reveals the report.

So, training on relevant skills, enhancing innovation starting from university level can greatly help going forward, concludes the report.