Clem Sunter

21st Century Work

2013-11-08 13:45

Clem Sunter

Adrian Saville, the investment management guru, put it so well at a conference at Sun City the other day: "Most solutions are right in front of you and all you have to do is open your eyes." He then showed a slide of a company that takes men standing by the side of the road and matches them to jobs that need to be done in a systematic manner. The market for this service is booming.

It is therefore a shame that the report by Goldman Sachs on the state of the South African economy, which was well-researched and balanced, failed to mention the critical megatrend which is right in front of our eyes the world over: the world of work is changing and there is no turning back. The days of conventional jobs are passing. From the UK where people sit by the telephone waiting for a request to do a fill-in job for a couple of hours at a fast-food restaurant to Japan where there are now millions of "irregulars" doing part-time work to the US where much of the rise in employment is work-seekers shifting from permanent manufacturing jobs to temporary service functions, the trend is obvious for all to see.

Yet we ignore it and continue to operate in the arcane framework of mass employment, trade unions calling for decent work, industrialisation strategies where the principal actors are big business, and economists who know all about the formal economy but have no clue what is going on in the alternative universe of the informal sector which most citizens of working age inhabit.

If we want to achieve an economic growth rate of 5% plus per annum in South Africa, we need to create the space for a new generation of entrepreneurs. One million new enterprises will create five million jobs: and right in front of our eyes are brilliant examples of the future. In Potchefstroom, I met a young woman called Susan who makes a brand of clothing named "Bushmen". She has 50 seamstresses and the garments she had on display in her small display space could compete with the best in America in a similar category.

Outside Knysna is TSiBA Eden College teaching young students business administration skills and how to be innovative in green niches like solar baking ovens and hydroponics. Sandy is the passionate leader of the place, and is preparing her students for the world of work that exists today - not yesterday.

Megatrends cannot be avoided. They are beyond your control and you have to adapt to them like a fox. In the words of Adrian Saville, let us open our eyes. I just wish that one political party would make the megatrend of the changing nature of work the centrepiece of its manifesto and define economic freedom according to the new reality that you do not get a job, you create a job. Big difference.

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