Unlocking tomorrow’s success: crafting a future-fit workforce and harnessing disruptive technology

By Zipho Dolamo

“Adapt or die” is the reality contended with by businesses at what appears to be the dawn of digital disruption and transformation. According to Prof. Rosslyn-Smith of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Future Work (CFoW), this was largely set in motion prior to and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic altered the landscape, offering possibilities for hybrid and remote work.

The recent Business Day Focus 4.0 conference, in partnership with Adapt IT, The CRM Team, Payfast, CloudZA, the University of Pretoria, Fixed Mobile Telecoms, and the Tshwane University of Technology, explored the themes of crafting a future-fit workforce and harnessing disruptive technologies.

During his keynote address, Prof. Rosslyn-Smith zeroed in on the reality and current projections for the future of work. Firstly, graduates of 2030 will occupy 85% of a category of jobs that have not yet been created to date.

As it stands, by 2040, the SSA (sub-Saharan Africa) region will contend with 20 million jobseekers per year against a margin of only 9 million jobs provided, according to Prof. Rosslyn-Smith.

After painting a gloomy picture about the current job landscape, Prof. Rosslyn-Smith offered a silver lining by suggesting that businesses in the SSA region are in a unique position of upskilling already existing employees in attempts to adapt to shifting markets.

Following the keynote address, Nastassia Arendse introduced the discussion focused on cultivating a work force that is future-fit, panelled by Tony Vicente, COO at Adapt IT, and decorated academic Prof. Khumbulani Mpofu, Professor of Industrial Engineering at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Tying in with assertions of a need for entrepreneurship by Prof. Rosslyn-Smith, Prof. Mpofu assured that the university context has adapted teaching models to include a focus on entrepreneurship and the gap between the academic teaching space and the real-time happenings of industry.

To bridge this gap, teaching models have been adapted such that students are given the opportunity to work on industry projects as a means of exposure. Prof. Mpofu emphasised partnerships between industry and academic institutions as paramount to producing graduates fit for industry.

Vicente seconded Mpofu’s sentiments by sharing Adapt IT’s commitments to aiding in bridging the gap by committing to skills development, rural infrastructure development, and graduate programs. Vicente also believes that in the context of developing already existing skills, upskilling (to adapt to shifting technology), and providing mentorship to employees, it is crucial.

The second session focused on AI, data analytics, automation, and how these so-called disruptive technologies translate to the consumer experience. Panellists included: Dr. Sean Kruger, senior lecturer at the Centre for the Future of Work (CFoW); Eduard du Plessis, CEO at Fixed Mobile Telecoms; Wynand Roos, co-founder of The CRM Team; Jonathan Oaker, founder and CEO of CloudZA; and Brendon Williamson, managing director at Payfast.

“Is tech disruptive, or is it a function of the business model?” Arendse posed to the panel. Panellists were unanimous in their responses, with Williamson posing the counter question “Does business accommodate disruption?”.

There needs to be an alignment between disruptive technology and business. Williamson continued to say that he believes there must be a strong collaboration between the two; you can’t have one or the other.

With the panel of industry heads in discussion, coupled with some comical relief, the discussion tackled issues that account for the failures in the execution of digital transformation within an organization. “Failing to align business model with tech… failing to answer simple questions like what is the tech for, accounts for these failures,” said du Plessis.

Roos affirmed these assertions by adding that “the failure to formulate strategy on the digital transformation journey nearly guarantees failure”. It is important for companies to align the digital transformation strategies of varying divisions with those of their own internal IT.

“The misalignment between the customer’s needs and the company’s offerings,” said du Plessis, also accounts for massive failures in digital transformation efforts.

A lack of understanding of the workings of AI tools, panellists agreed, is another huge challenge in industry today. Panellists agreed that technology is meant to strengthen human capability rather than account for its failures.

In addressing whether the harnessing of disruptive technologies is a top-down or bottom-up approach, Oaker concluded that the approach varies by organisation and model. “For an effective digital transformation journey to happen, there needs to be involvement from top management with intervention by middle management and encouraged innovation in general employees”.

Management needs to be open to listening, not only to their consumers but also to the younger generation of employees who are exposed to marketing tools such as social media. Dr. Kruger reiterated that there needs to be a meeting point in the middle.

The meeting point alluded to by Kruger impacts organisational structure in such a way that the younger employees, experienced in tech, can collaborate with senior employees experienced in areas like sales and commercialization. Kruger further shone the light on inclusivity in the form of making sure not to leave the older workforce behind while adapting to ever-shifting markets.

The final consideration of the discussion was the adoption of cloud technologies. Oaker asserted that “private and public consumer journeys vary. The public sector focuses on the elements of providing security, compliance, and regulation, whereas the private sector is about cost and how to develop these solutions”.

AI and other tech solutions are meant to provide time- and cost-effective solutions, while there is still a human element driving and improving the systems of operation. It is apparent that technology is important, but skilled labour to operate and improve the technology is equally important. This was a key takeaway from the conference.

To watch the full conference, visit Click Here

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