By pairing Africans’ already highly developed social cohesion and cognitive flexibility skills with technology, the continent’s economies can be placed at the centre of the future world of work. They can leapfrog many of the physical, infrastructural and skills barriers that have held Africa back.

As digital technology and data enable machines to accomplish technical and professional tasks better than people, human attributes, like empathy, social awareness and cultural fluency, are likely to become more significant. In response, economies – and workplaces – the world over are grappling with the best ways to enable organisations to develop, deploy, value and reward the uniquely human skills that will define the future world of work.  

Yellowwood recently released a paper titled “Africa’s Opportunity In the Future World of Work”, which asserts that Africa is especially well placed to benefit from the emerging world economy, as Africans already operate within a culture anchored in empathy and humanity.

This assertion is supported by a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report predicting that in future people will need 10 core skills to thrive. These are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, co-ordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.

The future world of work will require companies to create work environments that are no longer rigid, centralised and indistinguishable from each other. Instead, workplaces will need to be flexible and fit for purpose, giving employees the freedom to determine when, where and how they will work to meet agreed outcomes.

In this environment businesses are more likely to succeed by encouraging diversity and rewarding originality. These, we argue, are inherently African skills that have previously not been explicitly valued by businesses across the continent, or the world.

This shift in the core skills that the future economy will require is expected to drive an alternative approach to recruitment and training. There will also be more pressure on individuals to upskill themselves and ensure they have the cognitive flexibility that organisations require. 

The result will be the emergence of a much more pervasive gig economy, with people doing many different jobs and for shorter periods or on a temporary basis. In this future world of work, traditional qualifications might not be a reliable way to identify or develop the 10 core skills that the WEF predicts are likely to gain currency.

The core skills required to thrive in the future are expected to be complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, co-ordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.

In short, workplaces will need to adapt, along with the concept of what work is and which skills are required to do it. Specifically, workplaces will need to become much more flexible environments, able to support the upskilling of cognitive and emotional skills through sharing and social cohesion.

This principle of valuing deeply human behaviours more highly than technical skills has already started to affect corporate evolution in developed economies, as organisations increasingly seek leaders with the emotional intelligence and social fluency to build sustainable businesses in an increasingly interdependent world.

Africans have a long history of multitasking in an informal gig economy in which access and success are defined by networking, social insight and ecosystem cohesion. The continent is not only well placed to benefit from the trends emerging in the future world of work, but also uniquely predisposed – culturally and structurally – to inform the evolution of tomorrow’s global economy.

The full research report “Africa’s Opportunity in the Future World of Work” can be downloaded on www.ywood.co.za


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