About 230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa will be done digitally by 2030, which translates into about 650 million training opportunities, including required retraining, according to Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace: Closing the Skills Gap.
Considerable research has been conducted and literature abounds about the future of present jobs in sub-Saharan Africa and across the world. Many authors suggest that there are both fourth industrial revolution (4IR) opportunities and challenges.
What will happen in sub-Saharan Africa and across the world in relation to these 4IR opportunities and challenges will also happen in Tanzania. The only difference will be in varying degrees, depending on how better each country strategises to utilise those opportunities and address its challenges.
David Author, David Mindell and Elisabeth Reynolds, the authors of “The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines” suggest that to utilize those opportunities and address those challenges “we must continue innovating, both in the institutional structures of labour markets and in the technologies and new industries that create new jobs.”
Other authors suggest that the problem with the future of work (employment) all over the world will lie not in lack of jobs, but rather in lack of requisite skills to do new jobs created by 4IR technologies. One of the renowned authors, Klaus Schwab, suggests that digital technologies and global communication infrastructure pose a challenge to the traditional concepts of work.
He says the digital technologies and global infrastructure pave the way for new types of jobs that are extremely flexible and based on-demand economy (gig economy, shared economy or crowdsourcing).
He says the new jobs are accompanied by a new wave of innovation in the job marketplace that itself creates job insecurity for lack of requisite skills. Many people will lose jobs like typical engineers, typical doctors and waiters and new jobs will emerge that need 4IR skills like robot technicians, big data investigators, artificial intelligence experts, blockchain designers and 3D printing engineers, according to a UNCTAD report of 2021.
So, should people succumb to this uncertainty? Schwab suggests an alternative approach to job uncertainty.
He says it is the responsibility of all of us “to ensure we establish common values to drive policy choices and implement changes that will make the fourth industrial revolution an opportunity for all”.
He explains that there is no feasible forward-looking technological change unless we invest adequately in computing/digital power and data analytics. Yet, he cautions technological advances must be oriented and directed towards “the best possible outcomes”.
He suggests a twofold solution to this: 1) governments should allocate adequate funds for research programmes and 2) public-private research partnership should increasingly be structured towards building knowledge and human capital for the benefit of all.
“In the foreseeable future, low-risk jobs in terms of automation will be those that require social and creative skills. In the rapidly changing world, the ability to anticipate future employment trends and needs in terms of the knowledge and skills required to adapt becomes even more critical for all stakeholders,” he says.
A ‘UNCTAD Technology and Innovation Report 2021: Catching technological waves – Innovation with equity’ acknowledges that while with the emergence of 4IR technologies some jobs will disappear, new jobs will emerge – those requiring empathy, ethical judgment, inventiveness, managing unpredictable changes or making decisions based on understanding tacit messages – all of which have to be done by humans.
The report further says: “Predictions on job losses are typically based on technological feasibility, but the more important factors are often economic. Even when it is technologically feasible, capital may not replace labour; much depends on relative prices.
At the same time, the overall demand for labour could be increased by macroeconomic effects.”
The World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that to mitigate job losses it is necessary to empower individuals to take charge of their education and career strategies. For instance, the WEF suggests, investment in big data, blockchain technology and artificial intelligence in education instead of traditional procedures will help mitigate job losses.
Schwab says that in the workplace demand will increase for skills that enable workers to design, build and work alongside technological systems or in areas that fill the gaps left by technological advances. “These are roles that machines cannot fulfil and which rely on human traits and capabilities such as empathy and compassion: psychologists, therapists, coaches, event planners, nurses and other providers of healthcare.”
According to him, there is a need to redesign labour policies and business practices to ensure both men and women are empowered to utilise fully 4IR opportunities.
Otherwise, he says, there will be a gender gap, “making it more difficult for women to leverage their talents in the workforce of the future”.
Thus, Schwab suggests, lack of a skilled workforce rather than the availability of capitalis more likely to be “the crippling limit to innovation, competiveness and growth”.
He says 4IR will demand and place more emphasis on the ability of workers to adapt continuously and learn new skills and approaches within a variety of contexts.
What will this imply for developing nations, like Tanzania? Schwab says unless public and private sector leaders assure citizens of implementing workable strategies to improve their lives, social unrest, an influx of immigrants and violent extremism could intensify, thus creating risks for countries at all stages of development.
“It is crucial that citizens can engage in meaningful work to support themselves and their families, but what happens if there is insufficient demand for labour or if the skills available no longer match the demand?” he pauses.