Picture: 123RF/rastudio
Picture: 123RF/rastudio

There is a global narrative that Africa is being left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). We disagree, and in a recently published paper titled “Africa’s Opportunity in the Future World of Work” we argue that since the future world economy is more likely to reflect the kind of work and skills dynamics that already exist in Africa, the continent is, in fact, well-positioned to benefit from the 133-million new roles the World Economic Forum predicts machines and algorithms will create by 2022.

The paper provides a framework for a broader discussion on the future world of work. Specifically, it presents six factors, already largely evident in Africa, that predispose the continent to participate productively in the 4IR and assist in unlocking opportunities. These include the global, versus the African, context; the types of work; the work environment; industries; people and skills; and sustainability. 

Since Africa has only a very small formal economy, it already operates a diversified gig economy successfully. The continent is, moreover, already culturally predisposed towards highly empathetic jobs that prioritise diversity and adaptability rather than purely technical jobs requiring set qualifications. Its existing informal gig or task-based economy means that the continent’s work force is largely fit for purpose from the perspective of the 4IR.

In other words, the 4IR presents Africa with an opportunity to leapfrog many of the skills acquisition and structural and infrastructural hurdles that have limited the continent’s progress to date.

The 4IR has, for example, brought about a dramatic increase in task-based work in the developed world. As technology drives the emergence of a gig economy globally, traditional long-term employment with a single employer is likely to be a declining phenomenon.

Services like TaskRabbit and Pivigo already give businesses access to freelance workers who provide a range of skills for projects. Similarly, Eden McCallum analyses projects, providing hand-picked teams of experienced freelancers, sourced globally, exactly matched to the task at hand.

The ability to have a highly skilled workforce from anywhere in the world working on a variety of projects 24 hours a day is driving organisations to reconsider how they recruit, manage and remunerate talent – and especially where they source skills from.

As new technologies enable a much more effective dissemination of mostly entirely new skills far more effectively, and on a much greater scale, than ever before, employers will be able to find these skills anywhere in the world, contracting them in for as long or as quickly as they need them. The bulk of jobs in Africa are already in the informal economy. The continent also has fewer legacy businesses. As such, it has the potential to leapfrog directly into the new global gig economy – especially considering the degree of digital literacy that already exists in Africa.

The big take-out

The 4IR presents Africa with an opportunity to leapfrog many of the skills acquisition and structural and infrastructural hurdles that have limited Africa’s progress to date.

In short, technology is enabling a global gig economy that is broadly accessible and reliable.  

This economy is set to redefine professions and skills as the future world of work shifts from one that is defined by specific industries, sectors and professions with high barriers to entry, to a blurring of category lines as these barriers disappear.  This economy will require both employers and employees to develop work structures and skills combinations better aligned to a globally integrated gig economy.

Digitising Africa’s existing and largely task-based informal economy will connect Africa’s employers and employees with the skills and work opportunities to improve productivity and accelerate economic growth by participating directly and independently in a global gig economy that the continent is already structurally and culturally well-disposed to have access to.

The full research can be downloaded from www.ywood.co.za.

 

  • Ntombizamasala Hlophe is strategy director and Nokuthula Radebe is marketing manager at business and marketing strategy consultancy Yellowwood.