Economic Thoughts: The Big SA job disrupters

We tend to think of global shocks & their recession consequences, and excessive domestic wage demands inviting businesses to hold the line on wage bills by way of other means, as the big threats to jobs.


But a bigger threat to our employment by far might be structural & ongoing by way of technological disruption, a global reality and not bypassing us.


This reality is of course of all times, but especially today, with technical change so rapid, automating work processes, destroying the more mundane jobs, and indeed anything that can be digitalised.


These threats exist across all jobs, except in the public sector where different rules (still) apply (but for how long?).


In the private sector, the industrial revolution of recent centuries meant a large preponderance of manufacturing jobs in many countries. But manufacturing jobs as a share total employment peaked long ago, and in recent decades at ever lower peak levels as late industrialisers tried their hand.


Today, across the world, computerization is accelerating automation, also across our industry, and SA is no exception, with in our case both the share of industry output in GDP & the share of manufacturing jobs in the total steadily falling.


Automation extends deep across many sectors, including retailing and finance, with reports of banks wanting to shrink their branch space by half in quick time as their digitalization proceeds.


Any jobs involving repetitive actions acquiring little human judgement are in danger of being displaced shortly by less costly, more productive, more pliable machines.


Increasingly, only jobs that demand thinking input, whether creative or managerial, will likely survive. At least for the present.


That probably means your gardener is safe, if he is proactive, tells you want is needed & when, provides hands-on steering with his knowledge. Car park guards and security guards generally, are probably safe, too, thinking about uncertainty facing most of us in a crime-invested era, in which we seek protective human physical presence more than anything else.


But on the work floor, in offices, in retailing & forecourts, anything that doesn’t really requiring thinking processes is in a race with time.


It makes our development challenge only bigger, already saddled with 34% (one-in-three) unemployed & discouraged labour force participants, and the labour force still growing annually by some 1%.


Our future will be less labour intense. One wonders why this isn’t concentrating minds among those most at risk?