Talent management priorities shift in line with AI advancement in South Africa

28 May 2018 Consultancy.co.za 3 min. read

As the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities create a hybrid between human and machine contribution in the workplace, companies are rapidly adjusting the qualities that they prioritise when looking for employees. In South Africa, service orientation, innovative capabilities, and affinity for sales are emerging as the most valued traits in the new scenario.

AI and robotics might be advancing at a rapid rate, but “people remain at the heart of digital advancement” – is the refreshing key message of a new report from Mercer titled the ‘2018 Global Talent Trends Study.' 

A number of predictions have emerged in recent times about the impact of AI on the global economy. For one, the expanding scope of AI capabilities is lengthening the list of jobs under threat of replacement. A report published by strategy consultancy Accenture in recent weeks predicted that the current rate of AI advancement could lead to the loss of nearly 6 million jobs in South Africa.

However, the report also stated that this number could be halved, provided that the workforce acquires the skills to occupy jobs that involve working in collaboration with machines. This is the foundation upon which HR consulting firm Mercer has based its analysis.

Which skills are most in demand this year

In essence, AI might enhance and optimise key operations, but only talented professionals can align these capabilities with the overall goals and aspirations of an organisation. Nevertheless, alignment and coordination of this nature requires a whole new set of skills, some of which are enumerated by Mercer, including those most valued in the South African economy.

Globally, most organisations are building infrastructure to accommodate the entry of AI. This requires leadership that is well-acquainted with the state-of-the-art in technology, which explains why the global top priority for talent management is the development of capable executives for the emerging paradigm – cited by 41% of global executives.

Other transformations that are high on the global agenda include evolution of skills within an organisation, attracting top external talent, increasing employee engagement, and leveraging the new technological capabilities to optimise performance management.

Employee perspective: what would help you thrive at work?

The South African economy is currently coping with diversification through rapid innovation. Industries such as mining that the country traditionally relied on are also facing disruption from technology, which requires the adaptation of a labour-intensive industry to a technological framework.

Challenges such as these have placed ‘complex problem solving’ and ‘innovation’ capabilities at the top of the list of traits that organisations are seeking in employees, the former being in higher demand in South Africa than in the rest of the world. ‘Change management,’ ‘sales,’ and ‘service orientation’ are other traits that are more sought after in South Africa than anywhere else.

On the flipside of things, employees in South Africa are most actively seeking leaders who can clearly orient organisational goals. Other priorities in South Africa include fair & competitive compensation, the opportunity to learn new skills, and opportunities for mobility – both upwards and laterally