Moments of Truth Blog Post 2

Future-proof Your Career

The 4th Industrial Revolution is a time in our history that has crept up on us very quickly. It didn’t come without warning, but the speed at which it has taken root in the workplace is astounding. For some people it is a scary thing, for others, those who have prepared for it, it is an exciting time. Yet there are those of us who are still blissfully unaware of the impact of 4IR on us in SA in particular and a rude awakening is around the corner.

I want to use the eye-opening research of Accenture Consulting’s Paper called Creating South Africa’s Future Workforce as a platform to challenge our thinking around future job security and successful entrepreneurship.

Digital technology brings efficiencies, but it also brings disruption and radically new ways of engaging and doing business. For countries and organisations that are ready for digital and have a workforce that is geared to ‘run with the machine’, digital has the potential to uncover new value, create and redesign more jobs than those being lost and boost growth significantly. However, for countries like South Africa that are less prepared, digital may bring more job losses than gains, which will negatively impact the socio-economic wellbeing of individuals and the economy.

The specially commissioned research from Accenture indicates that 35 percent of all jobs in South Africa (almost 5.7 million jobs) are currently at risk of total automation. With a fragile economy and growing unemployment, especially youth unemployment, further job losses in South Africa could have a crippling effect.

Which jobs are at risk? Both white and blue-collar jobs are at risk. The more predictable and repetitive the activities that make up the task, the more likely it is to be replicated by machines and automated. The jobs of clerks, cashiers, tellers, construction, mining and maintenance workers all fall into this category. The more intensive the use of human-like skills to perform a task, the less likely it is to be automated. Jobs with less than 25 percent of risk of automation will comfortably ‘run with the machine’. Hard-to-automate jobs include tasks like influencing people, teaching people, programming, real-time discussions, advising people, negotiating and cooperating with co-workers.

While the steady march of progress inevitably spells more and more machine augmentation, allowing humans to use their time, energy and creativity differently, we are ill prepared for its consequences.

To rise to this challenge, South Africa will need to recalibrate its economy and its workforce for digital, developing an environment in which humans and machines work together to engage with customers, and create entirely new products, services and markets. This will drive demand and consumption within the economy, boosting growth.

Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock said, “The illiterate of the future will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” 

Human beings have an amazing capacity to learn new skills and adapt to new environments. This is true not only in early life, but throughout our lives. As the nature of work evolves, employees and entrepreneurs will need to adapt their mix of skills and knowledge to embrace new challenges and stay relevant.

Through all their research, Accenture interviewed experts from a wide variety of fields, from neuroscience and corporate learning to education and workforce development. They then used these insights to help identify and categorise both the universal skill families and the underlying cognitive capabilities needed for inclusion in the digital economy. They call the resulting findings ‘New Skills Now,’ and I want to briefly explore the six critical skills families that are identified in the research.

The six New Skills Now families comprise the cognitive abilities, aptitudes and dispositions needed to stay relevant and thrive in the fast-evolving digital economy, as well as specialised knowledge or craft skills for a specific market, industry or setting. These are capabilities that any individual can learn at any age and hone over time. A dynamic mix of all six skills families is critical to securing a first job or starting a business, and will remain critical to retaining that job, growing that business or navigating to the next opportunity.

  1. Learn to Earn

Foundational skills remain critical to learning and earning. Learn to Earn skills include literacy, numeracy and digital literacy—the minimum competencies required to locate, evaluate, create, transact and share content digitally. It also includes basic employability skills, such as conduct and work protocols (e.g., learning to maintain eye contact in an interview, listening and time management), and entrepreneurship.

  • Build Tech Know-How

Technology and data skills are no longer solely the role of experts; jobs requiring these skills will grow by 30 percent in the next seven years. Build Tech Know-How skills include the ability to use digital devices and platforms to analyse, explore and share data, and to work effectively alongside machine intelligence. So, alongside the soft skills required, we all need to become more tech-savvy.

  • Apply We’Q

As work becomes increasingly collaborative and task-based, social and relationship-building skills are gaining importance. Apply We’Q skills include teamwork, collaboration, communication, social and emotional intelligence, and the ability to manage others. It also includes cognitive functions such as self-regulation, which allows individuals to understand, control and adapt their emotions and behaviours in a team environment.

  • Create and Solve

As work boundaries become more fluid and challenges more complex, the concept of problem solving is changing. It requires thinking unconventionally, gathering ideas from diverse sources and applying design thinking. Create and Solve skills include creative problem solving, critical thinking, reason and logic to assess and analyse problems, and an entrepreneurial mindset. This skills family also includes cognitive functions such as decision-making and the ability to plan and execute a goal.

  • Cultivate a Growth Mindset

In the digital economy, work will no longer be restricted to one employer, job or team. People will need to constantly learn new skills to remain relevant in the workforce of the future, and a growth mindset will be critical to success. Cultivate a Growth Mindset skills include the ability to cultivate curiosity, openness, a growth mindset and the capacity for lifelong learning. Underpinned by the cognitive function of flexibility, these skills are building blocks for personal resilience and the ability to cope with and adapt to change.

  • Specialise for Work

The need for specialised, timely and market-relevant skills is essential for any type of work or entrepreneurial venture. However, as jobs and opportunities continue to shift in the digital economy, the specialised skills required to get ahead in those areas will continue to change. Specialise for Work skills are not static or fixed and will need to continuously change based on context, industry, market demand and type of work.

The Accenture Research correlates well with the work done by Bellevue University in Omaha, Nebraska, who identified seven critical soft skills they called Power skills. The identified skills are decision-making, problem-solving, judgement, communication, collaboration, self-management and values clarification. No longer are these skills ‘nice to have’ but they become the foundation that we build our future careers on.

In closing, the message to you and I is clear. There is no longer anything called job-security and business safety. We all have to adapt and develop the skills required to not just survive but thrive in the 4IR modern workplace. Life-long learning has to be a part of our lives. We do have the ability to be able to future-proof our careers, if we are willing to take on board the observations and recommendations of this critical research. The future does not need to be bleak. It can be the start of a new exciting journey!

Please feel free to share your thoughts and insights with us about this fascinating topic. If you are interested in assessing your own 4IR readiness please go to

And do the assessment for yourself.

Best wishes


   * Antony Jennings is Managing Partner of Zifundise Training and Consulting, a people development company based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

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