Ina Opperman Business Journalist
Although we already have highly advanced technology, it is not yet advanced enough to deliver nuanced results, products and activities that meet the needs of diverse populations. This means that although the workforce and work are getting more digitised, humans are still important.
Just in the last few weeks we have seen the rise of ChatGPT, while also witness the ongoing development of the Metaverse and algorithms that affect everything from what we see on social media to how we order food. There is a technological layer around everything we do that enables access and increases efficiency.
ManpowerGroup’s 2023 workforce trends report, The New Human Age, identifies 14 key trends shaping the future of work that affect today’s employers and employees, including four key forces, namely shifting demographics, individual choice, tech adoption and competitive drivers.
Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD at ManpowerGroup South Africa, says the rise of the Gen Z workforce forced organisations to take a long, hard look at how they cater for younger workforces. “Employers need to adapt to the shifting expectations of this new generation, who will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025.”
She says Gen Z employees work and live more consciously. They continue to question and drive change around issues ranging from diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging to climate change, with 52% of Gen Z workers saying companies are not doing enough about environmental issues.
“While Gen Z is in the driving seat, ageing populations rapidly reaching retirement age leave a skills and experience gap, resulting in reduced labour force participation in many countries. Countries with early retirement rates, such as France, Switzerland and South Africa, are finding their talent pool drying up.”
Statistics SA reports that approximately 9.2% (5.59 million) of our population are over 60. Only 19% of hiring managers are actively looking to hire returning retirees, creating another disadvantage for older adults which illustrates that focusing solely on one generational age group or demographic will severely limit a business’s ability to recruit talent from a wide range of diverse and skilled talent pools.
People of all ages and genders are looking for employers who acknowledge and actively support a healthier work/life balance after the pandemic, Van den Barselaar says, with 81% saying the pandemic affected how they think about work, while three in 10 workers and 42% of millennials want more work-life balance.
In addition, 31% would take another role in the next month if it offered a better blend of work and lifestyle. Yet, despite the growing importance of employee voices in the workplace today, 66% feel their employers have all the power to determine where they work, a dynamic that creates a power struggle as 64% of the workforce would consider looking for a new job if required to return to the office full-time.
It becomes even more important regarding gender. According to Deloitte, 57% of South African women feel less optimistic about their career prospects today than before the pandemic, higher than the global average of 51%.
A 2020 report by the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) revealed the gendered effects of the pandemic, with women accounting for two-thirds of the approximately 2.9 million net job losses that occurred between February and April 2020 among all adults aged 18 and older.
“Work is no longer one-size-fits-all, it is now one-size-fits-one and organisations need to understand and recognise just how different the needs are on an individual, case-by-case basis,” Van den Barselaar says.
She says people are beginning to acknowledge how much technology and innovation improved the world of work, but it is no longer accurate to think of ‘human vs automation’. Most workers (63%) say technology has made work better and 63% of frontline workers are excited about the job opportunities technology creates, with workers in executive or senior roles (74%) and American employees (71%) reporting feeling most positively about technology in the workplace.
A BrandMapp survey showed that more than 40% of South Africans earning above R10 000 a month returned to the office after the pandemic-induced work-from-home trend, but rates of return to full-time office work differ significantly between middle-class South Africans and top earners, with slightly more than a third of South Africa’s middle class splitting their work between home and the office, following a hybrid approach, while 46% of high earners are doing the same.
Van den Barselaar says the challenges now lie with organisations to use the power of technology to rehumanise and not dehumanise the workplace. “As work during the pandemic showed, 46% of employers believe in-person brainstorming generates the most creative ideas in line with what people reported since their main motivations to return to the office are for social interaction (39%) and efficient collaboration (26%).
“As tech helps to remove barriers and borders to work and accessibility, employers must recognise the benefits of augmenting their workforce with tech because it will open up a world of possibilities to find new and exciting ways of working in the coming years.”
Skilled workers have always been highly sought-after but the demand is more acute than ever today, with 78% of South African companies reporting difficulty recruiting, 3% above the global average of 75%, a 16-year high.
In ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions, the top three overall markets for skilled talent are the United States, Singapore and Canada with South Africa rated 14th in Total Workforce Index™ Global Ranking.
While the Total Workforce includes all individuals engaged in work activity within a workforce market, the Total Labour Force describes both employed and unemployed members of the population who are of working age and can work.
One of the three most important strategies for growth is also managing geopolitical risk and 90% of companies plan to invest in onshoring or nearshoring manufacturing facilities as they seek to de-risk supply chains with alternative sourcing.
“In an increasingly borderless world of work, staying competitive in a digital-first global economy, access to highly skilled talent is a distinct competitive advantage and organisations will need to meet that talent wherever they are,” Van den Barselaar says.
“Humans have always adapted to new technologies and better ways of doing things. As the saying goes: ‘history repeats itself.’ The pandemic taught us again that we can make extraordinary progress if we come together. The combination of innovation, technology and human ingenuity will help us overcome the biggest challenges.”
She says as we embark on a New Human Age, people are using technology and digital tools to enhance human connections, be more productive and live more meaningful lives. “By equipping people with the skills to leverage technology, we can create a future of work closer to what workers of the future want. It is how we will build a path for all to increase prosperity for the many, not the few.”