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By 10 March 2021 | Categories: feature articles

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Digital technology has done much to help life carry on as near to normal as possible during the pandemic. Video conversations with customers and colleagues are now taken for granted, while cloud-based document-sharing apps allow ongoing co-operation and collaboration. But opinions differ on how technology will continue to affect the workforce once this has all - eventually - blown over.

A recent report from Citrix looking at work in the year 2035, suggests a marked disconnect between how business leaders and employees view their roles in the future, and how advances in technology will impact their job security. Of course, for businesses to operate effectively, it’s vital that they address this digital disconnect, and bring the views of leadership and employees closer together to help ensure everyone is working towards a future they can all believe in.

New roles will emerge

As much as employees might like to believe that their current roles will evolve—or that new roles will emerge—they mostly fear being replaced. With unemployment now at 32.5% in South Africa, there is a rapidly growing anxiety with regards to job security and job opportunity within the economy.

While most business leaders (70%) believe that new roles like AI trainers, advanced data scientists, and privacy managers will be created for people by 2035, only a minority of employees (33%) agree. Similarly, while over three-quarters of leaders believe that organisations will create functions like AI management departments and cybercrime response units, fewer than half of employees anticipate them by 2035.

On this point, a digital disconnect can be tackled proactively when business leaders invest in re-skilling and upskilling employees. And they can get ahead of digital privacy concerns by being transparent today about what they’d hope to use employee data for, and the limits on that use.

The permanent workforce may be replaced by on-demand workers

For years, labour experts and governments have warned that the gig economy may erode the idea of full-time employment—and on this topic, business leaders and employees couldn’t be farther apart. Just 19% of business leaders believe that permanent employment will be rare by 2035, in contrast to 60% of employees.

What’s more, business leaders predict that just one-fifth of their workforce will be made up of contractors and on-demand workers and freelancers (i.e. non-permanent employees) by 2035.

The disconnect only widens from there as almost two-thirds of employees (64%) believe that by 2035, most high-value specialist workers will be freelancers. On the flipside, however, only 39% of business leaders share that belief.

With technological jobs and skills now accelerating within the South African market, employees could be anticipating a dramatic influx specifically in technological specialties. With the demand for jobs and skills in information technology at an estimate of 28% and the supply of these skills only at 7.5%, employees unfortunately do have a reason to feel worried. 

Leaders will therefore need to listen to their employees’ replacement anxieties—and move forward with strategies that calm, rather than fan, them.

Leadership may be replaced by AI

Citrix’s Work 2035 study also found that employees were far more likely than managers to believe that leadership will be partially or completely replaced by technology. Only 7% of leaders—vs. 33% of employees—predict that the leadership team will be replaced by tech in 2035, whereas most managers (74%) predict only a partially augmented C-suite.

By demonstrating empathy and vision—the kind of traits that elude an AI—leaders can demonstrate to employees their continued relevance and indispensability. But they also shouldn’t get complacent; human-technology synergies are bound to make certain executive functions “offload-able” to AI.

Leaders must address the significant upskilling and augmentation that will be required to elevate their workforces. Ultimately, to thrive in the future, leaders must empower their workforce to adapt and innovate. Recent world events have shown that the future of work can change almost overnight. But by acknowledging the concerns of their employees today, businesses can prepare for whatever tomorrow brings.

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