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Standard Bank Branch Closures a Sign of Things to Come – Are South Africa’s Workers Ready for Change?

By Stanford Mazhindu: Public Relations officer of the trade union (UASA)

Pretoria – The Standard Bank branch closures that will leave 1200 employees jobless is a sure sign of things to come. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is manifesting itself in real terms.

Are workers ready to grow their skillset to stay abreast of changing times?

The world of work is changing as companies are adjusting to changing customer behavior. Customers go where they find the best, speediest and most affordable delivery of products or services – and the banking sector is dealing with serious competition from digital market disruptors who offer exactly that.

With three new banking options (Discovery Bank, Tyme Digital Bank and Post Bank) wreaking havoc in the traditional sector, the old guard, such as Standard Bank, have no choice but to adapt their business offering or become irrelevant in their sector. This includes closing branches for lack of customer interest.

While it is hard to find anybody opposed to improved options, nobody likes to think about the job losses that accompany these changes.

Technological advancements through artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will continue to challenge the workplace and while these are expected to mainly affect lower tier workers whose jobs will be replaced by robots, who is to know exactly how much the world of work will change and who will be affected?

As today’s skills will not necessarily equip us for the workplace of tomorrow, we need to position ourselves such that we are ready to move with the changes. We can look at the future in different ways: We can deny that change is coming, get caught sleeping, and then suffer the consequences or we can identify the changes, the good it brings, and equip workers with the necessary skills to drive the change we want to see in the workplace.

South Africa’s future workforce will also need to align its skillset to keep pace with these developments.

To ensure employment in the future, say over the next decade, school leavers must give their chosen careers serious thought. Soon the new industrial revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics that will transform the way we live, and the way we work. Some jobs will disappear, others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace.
Government, organised labour and the technology sector (both local and international) should without delay engage in forums to discuss the best way forward while putting human capital at the centre of the discussion. Such forums should focus on job creation, the reskilling of employees to stay abreast of the expected changes, what benefits these changes will bring for employees, and how to use the 4th industrial revolution to create a safer workplace.

Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation Address, announced the appointment of a presidential commission on the 4th industrial revolution to ensure that “…we effectively and with greater urgency harness technological change in pursuit of inclusive growth and social development”. The same sentiments were echoed by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe, at the opening of the Gamsberg Mine, a technologically advanced zinc mine in the Northern Cape, where he said that we are responsible for the change we want to see. We must stay ahead of the change since all the minerals used in the manufacturing of 4th industrial revolution tools are mined from the ground. Mining therefore holds a pivotal role and remains important in the 4th industrial revolution.

UASA, as part of organised labour, is pleased with the attention the revolution receives and the focus on saving jobs while equipping the next generation of employees with the necessary tools required to be part of the changing world


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