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African businesses must remain focused on skills development

At the current pace of economic and technological advancement, too many of Africa’s growing population and businesses will be denied the opportunity to live up to their potential.

Digital technologies such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) offer a chance to disrupt this trajectory, unlocking new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services that would have been unimaginable only a decade ago.

Yet, there is also a growing ‘digital divide’ that needs urgent and coordinated action to mitigate.

The Covid-19 pandemic has showed us that we need to continually adapt our skill sets to meet evolving requirements in a world where the only constant is change. With the future uncertain, one thing is for sure – ongoing skills development is the best defence to ensure organisations can pivot to handle digital disruption with ease.

However, an obstacle in the way of this process is the overwhelming global digital skills gap. IDC, a global provider of market intelligence, estimates that two million jobs in artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, cybersecurity and blockchain will remain unfilled by 2023 due to a lack of human talent. Africa must be concerned with upskilling. Experienced employees are in short supply, meaning the region has had to upskill staff to adopt newer operational initiatives.

Latest study by SYSPRO, a leading global ERP software provider, titled ‘Realigning the links of the disconnected supply chain’ showed that while 38 per cent of manufacturing businesses upskilled staff to use business systems to their full extent to drive effective and efficient business operations in the face of disruption, 61 per cent of businesses had no intention of building long terms skills training programmes to enable a digital workforce.

The ever-changing business environment should also be considered when building a global labour force. In response to changing business needs, the global appetite for developing technological skills is slowly increasing at the expense of traditional business skills.

According to the Global Skills Index, the demand for business skills such as sales or communications has been decreasing, while the demand for skills in technology and data science has grown exponentially.

Adding to the complexity, 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) means that, increasingly, people will need to share the workplace with AI platforms and bots. This fundamentally changes the skills matrix required to thrive in the workplace of the future. While industries begin to reflect these changes in line with current trends, it is vital for businesses to proactively continue with training initiatives in foundational business skills with current employees.

Businesses that fail to pay sufficient attention to skills development will likely suffer from a variety of productivity-related challenges. This failure to acquire or adequately train the future generation of workers for the digitally driven economy will lead to greater income disparity, increased unemployment, and overall global economic losses.

Ultimately, while digital technology can help create a more agile, efficient organisation, it’s people who make a business. Organisations now have the opportunity to reassess their strategy to benefit almost every aspect of their operation.

In fact, digital adoption is not only within the realm of the technical team. Other resources and skills can be brought together to add value and drive transformation seamlessly.

To stay ahead of the curve, organisations and individuals need to commit to lifelong learning, to acquire and sustain the relevant skill sets to succeed in the ever-changing workplace of the future. While 4IR is dominated by technology, the skills that set people apart from machines will be emphasised.

The writer is the CEO, SYSPRO Europe, Middle East and Africa