We find ourselves amidst the early days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a time of profound changes touching every aspect of life, including the way we work. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2020 study on technology adoption by 2025 revealed that cloud computing, big data, and e-commerce remain high priorities, while encryption and non-humanoid robots, like artificial intelligence, have garnered increased interest. As the nature of work rapidly evolves, the COVID pandemic showcased how remote work, fueled by reliable internet connectivity and digital tools, has become the new norm.
Africa, in particular, stands at a unique advantage to harness the potential of this era. With a smaller manufacturing base, automation poses fewer risks for existing industries. Instead, technology-driven cost reductions are poised to fuel growth, create more jobs, and produce affordable products on the continent. Africa holds immense potential for innovations that enhance existing sectors and create new markets, benefiting its diverse population.
According to the 2023 WEF Future of Jobs Survey, businesses predict that the expansion of digital access will significantly impact their organisations. About 52% of respondents expect job growth, while 19% foresee a decline in jobs due to these advancements. Digital access expansion is projected to drive job growth in roles like E-commerce Specialists, Digital Transformation Specialists, and Digital Marketing and Strategy Specialists, with expectations of creating around 2 million jobs. However, growth projections vary across regions, with South Asia leading at over 30% growth and Sub-Saharan Africa expecting the slowest growth at 15%.
Macrotrends driving business transformation (WEF Future of Jobs, 2023)
As technology reshapes the workforce, skills requirements are also changing. There is a decreasing demand for skills that can be replaced by technology, while the need for advanced cognitive and socio-behavioral skills, along with adaptability, is on the rise. This shift challenges education systems to prepare the youth for future jobs and the skills they demand.
In Africa, the implications of 4IR may differ from other regions, with technology potentially having a more positive and job-creating impact on less skilled and less educated workers. A survey in Ghana revealed that many employers did not foresee technology disruption having a negative impact on their company’s recruitment in the short term.
Moreover, the distribution of the current workforce in the job market needs attention. Business and administration jobs have been prevalent, with ICT technologies playing a smaller role than industries like construction and engineering. However, as stable and new roles continue to influence the world of work, the role of ICT and the skills needed in that sector are expected to increase significantly.
As we stand on the cusp of a transformative era, Africa’s journey into the Fourth Industrial Revolution holds promise. By embracing technological advancements, nurturing talent, and aligning skills with future demand, Africa can steer itself toward inclusive, sustainable economic growth and empower its workforce to thrive in the ever-evolving job landscape. Let us embark on this journey together, where innovation, adaptability, and opportunity await!