Digitisation and automation could result in a net gain of 1.2 million jobs in SA by 2030

According to new research from McKinsey, this hinges on proactive action from business and government.

Contrary to what Robo-apocalypse doomsday sayers would argue, the advance of technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and advanced robotics can have a net positive impact or South Africa’s economic landscape. This is according to a new McKinsey paper, The future of work in South Africa: Digitisation, productivity, and job creationwhich shows that the accelerated adoption of digital technologies could triple South Africa’s productivity growth, more than double growth in per capita income, and add more than a percentage point to South Africa’s real GDP growth rate over the next decade.

The far-reaching impact on South Africa’s workplaces could result in a net gain of 1.2 million jobs by 2030, which a large proportion of those jobs going go to women, and digitisation could trigger a breakthrough in women’s empowerment.

Researchers analysed a range of potential scenarios for the pace at which automation could affect job losses and offset this against the labour demand created by seven catalysts including infrastructure investment and energy transitions and efficiency. 

Although digitisation will be disruptive, the report finds that it has the potential to raise productivity and operational efficiency in businesses across sectors, to deliver better outcomes for both customers and citizens, and to create millions of high-quality jobs. 

The research, which forms part of a global initiative by McKinsey on the Future of Work, focussed on how governments, businesses and members of the workforce can take action and adapt as digital technologies change the world of work.

And therein lies the critical caveat. In order to realise this potential, South African decision-makers in government and across all business sectors will have to move boldly to ensure that reskilling is sufficient to help reabsorb workers into the workforce. 

They also need to strengthen the education system to generate technology-related and life skills at a sufficient scale. Only then will South Africa successfully manage the massive workforce transformation ahead. Indeed, these steps are essential if the country is to seize technology’s potential to unlock inclusive growth, improve lives, and reduce unacceptably high unemployment levels.