OPINION | Producing future digital leaders to emerge with a more competitive advantage after Covid-19

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Traditional skills may no longer be sufficient anymore to weather an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world buffeted by the pandemic, writes Felleng Yende.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the nature of work, digitisation and talent management need to change to accommodate the new normal.

As we try to predict the future of the business world, the conversation inevitably often shifts towards the most critical enabler of all: preparing leaders of tomorrow's talented and digitised world.

Human Resources practitioners are not only being forced to evaluate people by traditional measures, but by getting ahead of the talent curve in anticipating future skills.

The need for new disrupters    

The truth is traditional skills may no longer be sufficient anymore to weather an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world buffeted by the pandemic.

Talent management teams are being forced to consider new talent that will disrupt organisations and identify new capabilities that will enable success in our "new normal".

Therefore, preparing leaders and workers of tomorrow is one of the most important jobs for the leaders of today. 

The business world is fertile ground for innovation. Virtual work has gone mainstream and the myths about working from home have been debunked. These days, meetings have gone online.

This means organisations need more talent to embark on research, development and innovation of better mediums for collaboration. 

The time is right to harmonise processes, shift resources to areas where scale matters and put a laser focus new skills, including the critical ones to boost productivity and boost the economic reconstruction and recovery.

Skills and productivity

Some of the critical skills required for our new reality include:

  • Information technology (IT) and telecommunications directors.
  • IT specialist managers.
  • IT project and programme managers.
  • IT business analysts, architects and systems designers.
  • Web design and development professionals.
  • Programmers and software development professionals.

There is no doubt that attracting the skills the public and private sector needs is vital if we are to increase productivity and economic output to get the economy back on track long after the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Productivity is a key factor driving long-term economic growth and increasing living standards.

In terms of the labour market, productivity growth is essential for creating quality jobs, since increased labour productivity can lead to higher wages, better working conditions and more investment in human resources. It, therefore, provides a sustainable route out of poverty.

Without a workforce that is continuously acquiring new and improved skills, it is difficult for a country to be competitive in the global world.

Therefore, a prerequisite for sustained economic growth and development is sufficient investment in education and training, especially to deal with critical skills.

The International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Resolution concerning human resources training and development says:

"Education and training are a means to empower people, improve the quality and organisation of work, enhance citizens' productivity, raise workers' income and promote job security and social equity and inclusion."

This means, by investing in people through skills development and training, enterprises benefit from increased productivity, which ultimately serves to make the country more competitive in an increasingly integrated world.      

Digitising the work experience and all business processes

Now, and more than ever before, there is a ruthless focus on digitising the work experience and all business processes.

Although the rallying cry for going digital has been around for more than a decade, the landscape is likely to change at an exponential pace post-Covid-19. For example, we have learnt that employees can be equally productive (if not more so) working entirely through technology, given the right context and support.

READ | Ramaphosa: Future of job creation is in the digital economy and SA is well positioned for growth

However, to work effectively from home (or anywhere outside the office) requires the right technology and a digital mind-set. 

This is the same in the media landscape.

Rather than just assuming that the way teams are operating today is the new normal, we need new talent to take the work-from home policies to a new level.


As the need for new talent to take the work-from home policies to a new level intensifies, one of the most crucial visions has arrived with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), courtesy of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

It  promises a better world, made possible through fresh advances in digital technologies and the progressive digitisation of the economy and society at large.

4IR says cyber-physical systems are merging different digital technologies to integrate it within the physical, digital and biological spheres. This is giving birth to deep and systemic societal changes at a larger scale and a more rapid rate than previously seen.

The digitisation of society and the economy requires not only investment in technological advancements, but also organisations that develop capabilities in a wide range of areas that contribute to success: reliable connectivity and quality standards, internet and data security, financial and legal frameworks, and scientific and innovation capital.

WEF Survey

The WEF conducted a survey of 800 American technology executives and experts from the information communication technology (ICT) sector to identify the technology tipping points expected by 2025.

The survey provides useful insights into the kind of digital future the ICT sector is building toward. According to WEF, these corporate leaders identified a total of 21 technological advancements that were either ready for deployment or would be deployed by 2030. Among the most popular were:

  • The first robotic pharmacist in the US, chosen by 86.5 percent of the respondents;
  • The first 3D-printed car in production, chosen by 84.1 percent of the respondents;
  • 5 percent of consumer products printed in 3D, chosen by 81.1 percent of the respondents;
  • 90 percent of the population with regular access to the internet, chosen by 78.8 percent of the respondents;
  • Driverless cars equalling 10 percent of all cars, chosen by 76.4 percent of the respondents.
  • The first transplant of a 3-D printed liver, chosen by 76.4 percent of the respondents.
  • Over 50 percent of internet traffic to homes for appliances and devices, chosen by 69.9 percent of the respondents.

The WEF says, 10 years from now, we will witness a lot of jobs spin off from technologies that are emerging today, such as drones, alternative energy, virtual reality, augmented reality, cybersecurity and block chain developments.

For example, the WEF says that 133 million new roles may emerge that are more relevant to this new reality in the workplace.

So how are employers responding to changing socio-economic and environmental conditions; how can individuals and societies shape their worlds for the better; and how can technology be deployed to improve the quality of life and the environments that support life?

Evolve and quickly redeploy resources 

For me, the new normal has underscored the many benefits of having a more focused, flexible and aligned operating model.

Every organisation needs to evolve and quickly redeploy resources. That will mean accelerating the re-skilling and up-skilling agendas beyond hard-to-find roles to ensure participation in the new normal.

In short, we are experiencing a new form of agility, but to what end?  I foresee major shifts that will persist over the next several years. The shifts include redesigning the nature of work, all-round digitisation of work processes and a focus on the new face of workplace engagement.

The new and future normal have placed a great strain and challenge on all of us to not simply survive in this current challenging and complex business environment, but to marshal our energies to think ahead and plan for the future by producing future digital leaders, so as to emerge with the greatest competitive advantage.

Felleng Yende is CEO of the FP&M SETA, which facilitates skills development programmes for 13 sub-sectors, including clothing, footwear, forestry, furniture, general goods, leather, packaging, print media, publishing, pulp and paper, textiles and wood products.

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