Pandemic presents opportunity to rethink PEPs, speaker says

23rd September 2020 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

There is a need to reconsider the approach of Public Employment Programmes (PEPs) and to structure these to upskill workers for the workplace of the future, a webinar hosted by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure on September 22 has revealed.

Development Economist consultant Liesel Eksteen said that, even before the pandemic, the world of work was changing rapidly and South African industries were shedding jobs as automation became ever more prevalent.

With the onset of the pandemic and the lockdown regulations, she noted that this caused major disruptions, and by June, the country’s economy was on life support.

She said that the pandemic would continue to impact the economy in unprecedented ways and that everyone would need to adapt to the new realities.

Eksteen noted that Covid-19 and subsequent economic shocks will impact the world of work, changing the quantity of jobs, which will exacerbate the country’s already high unemployment rate; the quality of work; and the categories of work.

While she acknowledged that the Fourth Industrial Revolution generated benefits for work, in the short term, it has impacted industries, with manufacturing, agriculture, construction, office administration and support, and food services and production seeing a negative impact.

However, with the pandemic, she noted that this had provided the best time to innovate and transform the economy now.

She highlighted opportunities from the pandemic as being the inclusion of digital technologies and disruptions, online entertainment and gaming, wellness, e-commerce, logistics and supply chain, as well as safety.

Owing to this new world of work and the future of work, Eksteen said that, in five years, 35% of skills today would be obsolete, with two out of three children starting school today set to work in roles that had not even been created yet.

She noted that the skills currently possessed by people would no longer be needed by employers, while the skills employers would need still had to be developed.

Therefore, she emphasised that there was a need to upskill and train people to be ready to meet this future, in terms of children entering school, those in school and those already in employment, who will need to develop new skills.

She indicated that PEPs would need to train people for multiple earning pathways, with the world of work changed forever by the pandemic – there will no longer be a set career job, but rather, multiple different jobs over a career.

In this regard, Eksteen noted that there was a need to develop both soft and hard skills.

She said the first skillset that had to be developed was human management and interaction skills, that is, emotional intelligence, negotiation and communication, besides others.

Secondly, there is the skillset of the interconnection between humans and machines. Eksteen suggested that programmes would have to consider building the skills that connect the two, with the need to harness the power of machine and digital assets through humans, to make the combination of the two a success.

Thirdly, she noted the skillset of cognitive flexibility and reliance, "to absorb a plethora of challenges and problems presented by an interconnected world of work".

Meanwhile, Expanded Public Works Programme national coordinator director Lungisani Dladla said the pandemic has provided an opportunity for innovation by young entrepreneurs.

Therefore, he said, PEPs needed to play a role in supporting small businesses, through changing their current traditional way of operation.

Dladla called for the employment of a “Kasi-Nomics Strategy” – an approach to develop and improve township and rural business to sustain township and rural livelihoods.

This strategy relies on three pillars, namely, developing new opportunities; revitalising existing business; and improving and sustaining existing businesses.