Currently completing an international MBA with a specialisation in Design Thinking principles, chairperson and co-founder of Ole!Connect Deseré Orrill looks at the South African job market’s response to digitalisation.
It goes without saying that digital disruption is changing how we work, live and play. On the one hand, technology and the digital ecosystem are exciting, opening up new frontiers of convenience and connectivity (among other benefits). On the other hand, it’s a scary place for job seekers either already in the workforce or, who are just leaving school or tertiary institutions to enter for the first time.
Some areas will experience change by evolution, others more rapidly but, one thing is certain – there will be change. As the digital era advances, the job market will see its fair share of changes too. In retail for example, as more companies go online to trade there are fewer physical retail outlets and therefore, a dwindling requirement for human beings to man physical stores.
But herein lies the true opportunity, for while there will be the inescapable initial job losses, those that have made the move to eCommerce have shown a corresponding increase in the requirement for a different set of proficiencies – people at both ends of the skills spectrum.
Digitalisation and automation don’t necessarily lead to the reduction of human jobs, but rather herald a different way of structuring the job market. The means required to transport and deliver the goods create new systems, and different jobs are thus created. The impact these changes have on means of production, imports and exports, money flow, production cycles, consumption patterns, demand management, technological development is already being felt and will only continue to grow.
Retail outlets and customisation
The outlook for real world retail outlets is that the shopping experience will become exactly that – an experience. It is not unforeseeable that appointments to view and touch real life examples of wares will have to be made. The physical (non-online) shopping experience could become much more planned, more personalised, and we could see a return to one-on-one attention in the purchase of not only luxury goods, but also everyday personalised or customised products.
The ‘real-world’ human connection points will be fewer but, also potentially better, especially for those who do their online research beforehand. Their virtual ‘tests’ and desire to have one more final ‘real check’ before purchase, will plan their retail visit by appointment, perhaps even adding a sense of occasion to the purchase.
Consider the advances in virtual reality (VR) technology and what artificial intelligence (AI) can already do, and then imagine a time when we can design our own outfits, dinners, transport solutions (and so on), try them on for size, AI monitors our reaction and adapts the end result accordingly, before the item is ordered and purchased.
How the banking sector is faring…
These changes are already being felt within the highly pressurised South African job market, with notable examples in the banking sector. With the recent headline-grabbing Standard Bank branch closures, it is clear there is an emphasis being placed upon improving the functionality and ease of use of online and mobile banking services as opposed to the physical experience.
According to a recent article in TechCentral, “Absa, FNB, Nedbank and Standard Bank – have together shut 695 branches since their respective peaks in the earlier part of this decade.” This restructuring, however, can also be an opportunity, as discussed recently by Absa Banks Deputy CEO, Peter Matlare, via LinkedIn. He explains that Absa is one of those traditional banks delving deeper into digital banking, and “as part of this change, this digitisation is about what should be in your toolbox and how do we change culturally how people interact with each other and with a customer out there in order to become this agile, digitally-enabled bank that will hopefully succeed.”
Within the banking sector then, there is also the option not to eliminate physical branches and human interaction, but instead to change the nature of the services offered at the branches. Rather than traditional bank tellers carrying out transactions which could also be done online, there will be a focus on helping clients to make better use of the digital services by means of facilitating real life interactions on site.
For those in the marketing and advertising worlds, the future is already here and the next generation of marketer needs a whole new basket of skills. Disruptions with this space have already seen shake-ups for traditional advertising agencies who are often scrambling to adapt to a world where advertising is now delivered within an on-demand space with content and tailored to key demographics based on data-driven insights.
Disruptors in this space, including the next generation team at Ole!Connect, are leaders in understanding the new requirements of the digital age and both its company structure and employee skills set reflect this. The marketing and advertising jobs of today were not even imagined a decade ago, and in order to keep up with the realities of this new job market in sectors such as retail, banking, marketing and advertising among others, the South African education and training sectors need to adapt and adapt quickly.
Young graduates need a new set of relevant skills that will prepare them for the changes inglobal production, consumption, trade and retail. Within this new environment of digitalisation, it’s time to ensure we are not just prepared for the future that is upon us, but rather excited and ready to embrace it.