South Africa: Automation Looks Set to Eliminate 1.7 Million Jobs in SA

opinion

Could banning cheap labour only make things worse for desperate unemployed youth?

South Africa's fastest-growing job category in the second quarter of 2019 was that of "manager", both in relative and absolute terms, according to StatsSA. Year on year, 112,000 new jobs were added, bringing the total number of managers to more than 1.5 million. That looks like good news - but overall employment numbers remain negative relative to population growth, while the biggest recent job shedding hit low-skilled "elementary workers".

In the first quarter of 2019, the second-worst period in the last decade for net job cuts, "construction" jobs reduced by 142,000. Only a small fraction have been recovered since.

Global Justice Fellow at Yale and Fellow at Columbia University, James S Henry finds that at least 1.7-million workers in SA are at “high risk” of automotive replacement. These are mostly in lower-skilled jobs such as shop clerks, switchboard operators, and manual jobs where machines can take over the work of muscles.Tufts University economist James S Henry finds that at least 1.7 million workers in SA are at "high risk" of automotive replacement. These are mostly in lower-skilled jobs such as shop clerks, switchboard operators, and manual jobs where machines can take over the work of muscles.

These are just more signs that, for those lucky few who start out, a couple of rungs up, there is still hope to climb the ragged South African ladder, while most unskilled youth tread air. Youth unemployment is over 55%.

In November 2018,...

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