The pandemic has accelerated the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and transformed how employees operate. The future of the workplace demands new skills and ways of thinking: existing jobs will disappear, to be replaced by new roles that don’t even exist today.

Digitalisation could help reignite growth and job creation. However, organisations, business leaders and educators need to be proactive in upskilling workforces and educating the youth to thrive in the new economy.

The recent Business Day Focus 4.0 Digital Dialogue in partnership with BCX, Johannesburg Business School (JBS) and the Small Business Development Agency (SEDA) and moderated by Alishia Seckam, panellists Hope Lukoto, chief of human resources at BCX; Tumi Nkosi, director of executive education at JBS; and Andrew Bam, senior manager of PAD and learning at Seda, discussed what the workforce strategy for the future should be.

A lack of digital skills means that small businesses are unable to engage and compete effectively, said Bam. For a business to be sustainable, it must invest in upskilling human capital. Not only are 4IR skills such as coding, blockchain and analytical skills essential, but in a changing business environment, business management skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and inter-personal capabilities are just as important. Schools should be teaching learners how to apply knowledge critically to engage with modern society.

Bam conceded that investment in skills development is a hard sell when issues like food, health, shelter and loadshedding take priority. Data also continues to be very expensive. Attitude is everything when it comes to upskilling employees, he said, adding that online courses are readily available for those with the necessary motivation.

Employees of the future won’t only need digital skills, said Nkosi, adding that interpersonal skills will be just as important. Not only do companies need to develop skills, creativity and motivation in their employees, they also need to implement initiatives to retain their workforce in the face of local talent being poached internationally.

To keep up with demand, SA needs to upskill one billion people by 2030. JBS has introduced a new master’s course in artificial intelligence (AI) to help meet the demand but more programmes like this are needed – and soon. “We don’t have much time,” she stressed.

More than half of South Africans (53%) are worried that AI is a threat to their jobs. However, it’s important to remember that robotics is simply a tool to do a job that human creativity and imagination have created, said Lukoto.

BCX is involved with upskilling from the grassroots up and has partnered with the Explore Data Science Academy as well as high schools and tertiary institutions. The company directs the skills experience so that students see and understand the relevance and pursue it further. At a tertiary level, BCX pilots research projects which work towards digital solutions.

Remote working enables labour to be local or international. Fierce competition globally for talent means that companies must implement initiatives to retain their staff.

The most in demand skills in the future will be tech skills like data analytics and coding, but – as important – will be soft skills such as problem solving, creativity, critical thinking to reach a solution, as well as the ability to be a self-starter, said Bam.

To watch the full digital dialogue, visit