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Post-pandemic: Are Nigerians prepared for the future of work?|

Covid-19 has berthed the new normal and what is largely seen as disruption in the way of doing things whether in the social and family life and the workplace. This disruption has however been more pronounced in the workplace. Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf in this report raises posers about Nigeria’s preparedness in the emerging world of work in a fast changing world

WORLD over, people are confronted with the reality of the new normal and have since internalised the changes, no thanks to the ravaging coronavirus pandemic. In the view of experts, COVID-19 has brought an unexpected crisis that has affected businesses; however it has also brought about new ideas and new ways of getting jobs done just as it has led to changes in the world of work. For employers particularly, the pandemic has become a key component of their hiring decision among other things.

Changing roles, emerging champions

Wale Adio (not real name) before the pandemic was an Admin Clerk in a juice manufacturing company in Lagos. But as soon as the pandemic struck, he was among the first sets of staffers asked to proceed on compulsory leave by the management while the majority of other workers in the production arm of the company were not only asked to remain but got hefty perks as part of incentives for work.

This foregoing anecdote becomes apposite in describing the changing world of work where technology-driven skills set would be the order of the day. Although Nigerians are generally described as laggards when it comes to adapting to change, investigation by our correspondent however revealed that many employers are proving bookmakers wrong about adjusting to the new normal.

A case in point is an old generation bank which recently put up job vacancies and was on the lookout for candidates with skills sets with focus on technology learning among other prerequisites.

Jobs for tomorrow

In a recent report tagged: ‘The Jobs of Tomorrow’ by Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum and Head of the Forum’s Centre for The New Economy and Society, she said, some jobs will disappear and others will emerge as the world faces a dual disruption.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report2020 comes at a crucial juncture for the world of work. The report, now in its third edition, maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change based on surveys of business leaders and human resource strategists from around the world. The report aims to shed light on the effect of pandemic-related disruptions placed in the broader context of longer-term technology trends.

According to the report, there are five points to ponder as far as the emerging world of work is concerned.

Specifically, the report says the workforce is automating faster than expected, displacing 85 million jobs in the next five years. “Automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, is creating a “double-disruption” scenario for workers. Companies’ adoption of technology will transforms tasks, jobs, and skills by 2025. Some 43 percent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce because of technology integration, 41 percent plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialised work, and 34 percent plan to expand their workforce as a result of technology integration. Five years from now, employers will divide work between humans and machines roughly equally.”

Besides, the report notes that the robot revolution will create 97 million new jobs. As the economy and job markets evolve, new roles will emerge across the care economy in technology fields such as artificial intelligence—AI and in content creation careers such as social media management and content writing. The emerging professions reflect the greater demand for green economy jobs; roles at the forefront of the data and AI economy; and new roles in engineering, cloud computing, and product development. The up-and-coming jobs highlight the continuing importance of human interaction in the new economy through roles in the care economy; in marketing, sales, and content production; and in roles that depend on the ability to work with different types of people from different backgrounds.

Looking into the future, the report says, in 2025, analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility will be among the most sought-after skills as employers will see critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving as growing in importance in the coming years, although these have consistently been cited in previous editions of the survey. Newly emerging this year are skills in self-management, such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility. The data available through metrics partnerships with LinkedIn and Coursera allowed the researchers to track the types of specialised skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.

Still, the report says, the most competitive businesses will focus on upgrading their workers’ skills. “For workers set to remain in their roles over the next five years, nearly half will need retraining for their core skills. The survey also found that the public sector needs to provide stronger support for reskilling and upskilling of at-risk or displaced workers.”

More experts’ views

In a recent baseline study undertaken by Sabina Dewan and Ekkehard Ernst and shared on the International Monetary Fund website, tagged: ‘Rethinking the World of Work’, the duo noted matter-of-factly that the pandemic is accelerating a shift towards more informal and precarious work. With millions of jobs lost, robots on the rise, and white-collar workers toiling largely at home, COVID-19 appears to have ushered in a new normal in the global workplace. But many of these developments stem from failed policy responses to megatrends already in motion long before the pandemic struck.

For at least two decades, shifting demographics and technological upheaval have been upending labour markets, exacerbating inequality, making jobs increasingly precarious, and deepening economic insecurity. The new normal, in other words, isn’t really new.

A deadly virus has simply accelerated the pace of change, with devastating consequences—especially for developing economies, which are expected to lose at least $220 billion in income, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Reporting on the survey, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that 17 percent of previously employed people between the ages of 18 and 29 stopped working after the pandemic hit, and 42 percent reported a drop in income. In the absence of pathways to productive and high-quality employment, developing economies that pin their economic ambitions on a demographic advantage are setting themselves up for disappointment.

The experts however note that there is something to cheer about for countries with surging youth’s population unlike advanced economies, including: Germany, Japan, and the United States—struggling with aging populations as well as some emerging market economies, including China.

“But in a majority of developing economies, the youth population is swelling. Some of these countries, such as India, Indonesia, and Nigeria, will approach the peak of their demographic bulge during the next two decades, while smaller countries, such as Angola and Zambia, are in earlier stages of the demographic transition. A youth bulge presents an advantage only if economies can create productive jobs with rising wages.”

Hope rising for Nigeria

In the view of Dr. Timothy Olawale, Director-General, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), with the pandemic, it has become clearer that organisations have to be more agile, flexible, dynamic and responsive to change.

“The disruptions created by the pandemic will be with us for quite a long time, thus, forward looking organisations are already adjusting their processes and systems in order not to only reduce the impact of the fast-changing work environment but to also maximise the opportunities inherent in the disruption,” he deadpans.

While nothing that no organisation globally can claim to be ready because change is constant and technological innovation will continue, the NECA boss was however quick to add that “Recent events have shown that Nigerian organisations are adjusting to the realities of a changing world of work, post-pandemic. Many have imbibed and instituted various forms of work schedules, invested in technology and automation and changed their processes to enable them function effectively in view of the changing workplace dynamics.”

To remain competitive and sustainable and to participate in the emerging global market, post-pandemic, all organisation would have to adjust and keep pace with these fast-paced changes – and Nigerian businesses are not taking the back seat, he stressed.

Expectations from employers

In a research project titled, ‘The Future of Work’ by Sir Dr. Chinedu Odebeatu, he acknowledged that the emergence of theCovid-19 pandemic in the first quarter of the year 2020 has delivered a rude awakening to the whole world particularly the ‘work’ environment all over the world.

While noting that the work environment of some first world countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, Singapore, South Korea, China and Japan may not have been too taken by surprise since they are not only responsible for innovating and fully embracing the internet and the world wide web, but many of them have since started exploring artificial intelligence to see how they can be used to replace human beings in workplaces, many work environments of third countries like Nigeria have consistently remained on the peripherals barely accessing the vast potentials and opportunities made available by the internet and the world wide web.

Citing Upwork- Future of Work Report, Odebeatu, who also doubles as Business Development Manager, First Bank of Nigeria, Nnewi BDO, stressed that hiring managers are expecting 168% increase in the amount of work done by the flexible talent in 10 years. “Managers are aware that it isn’t just how many hours you sit in a chair, but how much you produce. There is no longer a need for most employees to work from an office or to work 9-5. Unilever is doing a great job of this where they are rolling out this concept of (what they call) “agile work” to their 175,000+ employees around the world. MTN along with many corporate organisations in Nigeria worked from home during the lockdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic,” he recalled.

Another myth shattered by COVID-19, Odebeatu observed, is the demystification of leadership in the workplace.

According to him, unlike what obtains in the past, these days, especially during the early days of the pandemic, “Any employee that is able to build a following with the content they share internally is capable of being a leader; something which was not possible before especially not at the scale that collaboration platforms allow today. Think of how many people have become leaders as a result of social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Facebook, now employees can do the same inside of their companies. Think about the power of the influencer’s voice on social media platforms, like Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. Imagine having that same voice with millions of followership inside a company? The advantages are enormous.”

Downsides of the future of work

While noting that the future of work obviously provides numerous advantages for the world of work, especially for high skilled experts and the teeming young population in Africa and other developing world, and for curtailing the huge costs of running and maintaining overloaded and bloated public and private sector workforce, Odebeatu maintained that the future of work still has its challenges especially for participating workers in third world and developing countries for whom, efficient and stable infrastructure is largely elusive.

Specifically, he said, “Basic public amenities and services like free internet supply, cost of technological tools and devices which are unaffordable due to high poverty levels, the challenge of international payments, perception of Africans, especially Nigerians as fraudulent, which deprives many of job prospects and finally, the lack of consistent power supply are lacking.”

Such challenges, he noted, “Put freelancers at a disadvantage as they are unable to effectively compete, not being able to meet deadlines, or are forced to do so with alternative sources of power at exorbitant costs which affect the returns they earn from the jobs.”

Also writing on the changing world of work, Arun Sundararajan, a professor at the Stern School of Business, New York University, and author of The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism, observed that, “The confluence of two digital forces will dramatically reshape tomorrow’s workplace, leading to a sharp reduction in the traditional employer-employee relationship. New platforms allow economic activity to be organised in ways that shift much of what was traditionally accomplished by full-time workers within an organisation to a crowd of individual entrepreneurs and on-demand workers. The result is an economy that increasingly relies on short-term freelance relationships rather than on full-time employment.”

She however concludes by saying that the challenges facing today’s millennial workforce seem quite daunting. “If society plays its cards right, tomorrow may offer a better place.”

‘Nigeria not ready for the future of work…but’

Thelma Ibeh is Head HR, Future Moves Recruitment Agency Limited, a full-fledged human resource firm with expertise and experience in human capital development and staffing. In this interview with Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, she speaks on the future of work post pandemic. Excerpts:

Do you think Nigeria is prepared for the future of work?

Honestly this can be answered in two ways. Nigeria as a nation is not ready for the Future of work, however companies, SMEs etc., are making efforts to prepare but when there’s no leverage for these companies the preparation becomes impossible. It is no longer news that artificial intelligence is the driving force of the fourth industrial revolution. The global economic returns expected from this revolution is about $16 trillion and as it stands, no African country is among the top 10 countries with the highest level of benefit in this economic return, what does this mean for us?

The demand for highly skilled workers has increased while the demand for workers with less education and lower skills has decreased. So it is natural to assume that the less skilled Nigerian force who have low literacy rates and are obviously in high numbers with great barriers to acquiring quality skills and education will suffer greatly, hence we have a long way to go.

What are the realities most employers in Nigeria should look forward to?

Employers across the country have been tasked with reworking their physical workplaces, rethinking their customer experience and ramping up their digital capabilities for a future that’s still in question marks. According to Delloite, the driving forces of big data, the Internet of Things, and the growing number of Generation X individuals in leadership positions have led to the rise of exponential technologies and data-driven organisations”. Organisations that can capture the potential value unlocked by technology and data’s unprecedented availability are anticipated to outpace their peers.

Remote work is something that has come to stay; employers must start embracing this and tweaking their models to accommodate this. However this has been frustrated by the circumstances beyond their control in a country like ours. Take for an example an employee is required to work from home, there’s no power: they seek an alternative which is a generator, looking at the cost of fuel, electricity tariff, internet services etc. It’s extremely expensive to have employees work remotely especially where 70% of businesses in Nigeria are SMEs who struggle to run and keep their businesses. The reality could be more hard times for businesses.

What are employers’ expectations from old and new recruits?

These days, employers look for skills beyond the ‘academic qualifications’ of candidates. Many of them believe that academic qualifications and experience are something that can easily be found but the right combination of characteristics that help a company make money or save money, are hard to find.

Employers want people who can take initiative and people having the motivation to accomplish tasks on their own. Employees or candidates need to show that they are ready, able, and willing to get things done without being asked.

Besides, employers want employees who have a positive attitude. Many employers believe that having a positive attitude is more important than the knowledge an employee brings to the table. If you’re a positive person, you are always looking for new ideas that yield higher productivity levels.

Entrepreneurial spirit is becoming a key sought skill. The essence of the entrepreneurial attitude is that you are able to anticipate change and formulate innovative responses to change that will result in success.

Of course, nothing can stand in the way of someone who is results-oriented. Results-oriented individuals are focused on making things happen no matter the challenges or road blocks. You must know how to meet deadlines, and deliver value to the organisation. This is just as having a desire for continual learning enables employees to increase the contribution they make to the company. And there are many more expectations but these few are key.

What are the new set skills most sought for now and in the distant future?

Last year, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and analytical reasoning led global list of the most in-demand hard skills, while these skills still top the chart. Of course, you also have to add a positive attitude, good communication, and teamwork skills are the top three most valued soft skills by employers in recent times. Empathy and emotional intelligence are two extremely useful talents too, enabling strong, productive relationships. Within a professional environment, these two attributes will determine the quality of your interactions with your colleagues, your supervisors and your clients: they are the direct reflection of your human qualities, which will be able to bring a real competitive advantage to the development of client relationships.

Again, as new technologies are developed based on data and Artificial Intelligence, the ability to hypothesise and resolve complex problems has grown: this has already led many professionals to work with complex ecosystems where virtual and human aspects are combined.

What would determine employability for new recruits?

The national job growth, recessions, technological advances and automation is obviously affecting employment rates. Looking for a job when businesses are barely surviving makes it difficult to get one. For instance, the economic situation is poor and national unemployment rates are high, it may be easier for companies to retain their employees since other job opportunities are limited.

Certain industries previously requiring people to work on factory lines may now be able to use computer-operated machines instead of employees. This may significantly decrease the amount of employees needed in a company’s workforce.

What this means is that new recruits must have exceptional skills with proven results and a positive attitude to get an opportunity in a time like this.

Do you see more people staying in their job or getting thrown into the job market?

People who know what they are doing are actually being sought for, your throwing out is dependent on your value, for many 2020 and 2021 is looking really good. A lot has several offers waiting for them, when you don’t move fast, you get thrown out! So yes a lot are thrown into the job market or lack of innovation, value, resistance to change and not being trainable. In the last six months I have hired programmers, video editors, graphics designers, digital marketers, content creators, etc., than many other jobs which in most organisations has reduced the number of employees they need to do a particular job. Also following the economic situation in Nigeria, by default, many will be thrown out as businesses are struggling to survive due to national issues beyond their control.

What is your advice to prospective employees?

Well I would say firstly be prepared for the market. It’s a place of uncertainty; passion may not pay your bills at this time. Don’t always follow your passion. If you study people who end up loving their work and becoming experts, most of them did not follow a pre-existing passion. Learn any skill available to you; your passion will develop from the things you try out. Have as many passion as possible, LOL.

Secondly, start anywhere! The worst that can happen to anyone is staying idle at this critical time when skills needed for work are rapidly increasing and even those working aren’t meeting up how much more someone who is doing nothing. Take that job no matter how small, you can only test your ability and showcase your skills when you are out there! Only then can someone see your work. Jump the train first and gradually many opportunities will be open to you.

Source: The Nation News

A case in point is an old generation bank which recently put up job vacancies and was on the lookout for candidates with skills sets with focus on technology learning among other prerequisites.


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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