The business landscape is changing—digital investment is ubiquitous, and workers’ talents are ever more augmented by machines. It’s an opportunity for workforce empowerment, but can South African companies rise to meet the challenge?

For South African companies—like their global counterparts—digital investment is a given. Products, services, and even surroundings are ever more customised, and businesses cater increasingly to the specific needs of the individual. Until now, identifying ways to leverage technology to meet the changing needs of consumers has taken centre-stage, but what about the needs of the workforce?

This question is posed by Accenture’s (NYSE: ACN) 2019 Technology Vision report, “The Post-Digital Era is Upon Us – Are You Ready for What’s Next?” The annual reports predict the technology trends set to define business over the next three years; this year’s report poses several questions, among them whether companies are adequately equipping their workforces to contribute meaningfully in an era in which the power of technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence, distributed ledgers, and extended reality continues to advance.

Hans Zachar, MD for Technology Strategy at Accenture in Africa, “The business landscape has changed dramatically. South African companies that succeed in the post-digital era will need to do far more than blithely prioritise technology spend—they will need to focus on their workforces and adapt to their new and often unfamiliar needs. Success will come from harnessing technology to unearth employees’ real strengths, allowing them to contribute meaningfully, learn new skills, and develop in tandem with the technological capabilities they’re immersed in every day.”

Today’s most successful workers are empowered by technology. They incorporate digital tools to perform existing roles in new ways or adapt to new roles that did not exist in the pre-digital era. In a word, such workers are “human+”: empowered by their skillsets and knowledge plus a new, growing set of capabilities made possible through technology.

Technology will only ever be part of the solution—there’s no substitute for people talking and supporting each other. It’s all part of creating a truly human workplace where everyone feels safe to open up about mental health.

Keeping pace

Yet even the most adept post-digital workers are often still being hired, trained, and managed in pre-digital ways. With the war for talent continuing to rage, companies must adapt their technology strategies to close the divide between themselves and their digitally mature workforce.

South African companies are already in the midst of this change—and running the gamut of challenges that come with it.

For example, the speed and constantly changing nature of career journeys are now making it harder for companies to add specific skills to their workforce through traditional hiring approaches. Top candidates are off the job market within a matter of days, and a poor hiring process can lead to a new employee whose primary skills are not a good match for a role.
Companies’ needed technology skills are also in a state of flux, yet most still approach talent-finding as they did in the era of stable career paths.

Talent 2.0

As a consequence, many forward-thinking companies are beginning to rethink the way they hire, using technology to assess candidates based on capabilities and potential—an approach that is better suited to the adaptability of today’s technologically savvy worker.

For example, Unilever recently revamped its entry-level hiring process so that interested candidates begin with a screening process that includes a series of short games. Designed to assess candidates’ potential fit based on traits like memory, acceptance of risk, and propensity to read contextual versus emotional cues, the AI-based tool reviews the results, eschewing traditional résumé-based evaluation in favour of optimising for potential. There’s no “wrong” result; the trait profiles simply help match candidates to open roles.

But as organisations evolve their strategies for recruitment and hiring, they must also review their approach to compensation. Even as work becomes more democratised and career journeys more fluid, challenges like gender pay gaps persist. Several studies demonstrate that these pay gaps begin before a candidate even interviews for a job, with gender bias in job postings. AI-driven tools can help identify and correct biases related to gender, race, disabilities or age, beginning to even the playing field.

Learning to earn, or earning to learn?

A recent study found that more than 40 percent of millennials rank learning and development as the second most important benefit in deciding where to work.

Leading companies also recognise employees’ growing need for development and are investing in learning platforms. Consider PayPal which recently partnered with Udemy to offer on-demand, self-directed video learning to its employees. Not only does the partnership offer immediate learning opportunities, but it also provides PayPal with better insight into the skills its workers want to target and how best to meet those needs.

Success in SA

For South African businesses, a major factor for success in the post-digital era will be isolating and addressing persisting digital divides. For one, leaders need to begin identifying business practices that are still optimised for pre-digital workers. These could include knowledge management strategies, employee learning opportunities, or talent-finding and hiring practices. From there, pilot programs that explore how AI, sentiment analysis, and extended reality could be explored to help close the gaps.

Talent forecasting may also need review. Rather than “reactive” and skills-based hiring, leaders will increasingly need to look for ways to assess candidates based on their capabilities and potential and identify areas of the business where digital tools can assist in finding talent.

Where enterprises remain optimised for the workforce of the past, disconnects reach throughout the organisation.

“In short, South African companies need to approach talent in a new way—one that suits the post-digital era and recognises employees' growing skillsets and desire to learn. Technological investment laid the groundwork for what's taking place in workforces around the world—and companies must pay attention if they hope to succeed,” concludes Zachar.

About Accenture

Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. Combining unmatched experience and specialised skills across more than 40 industries and all business functions—underpinned by the world’s largest delivery network—Accenture works at the intersection of business and technology to help clients improve their performance and create sustainable value for their stakeholders. With 459,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. Visit us at


Jonathan Mahapa
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