I was recently chatting to former Springbok hooker Dale Santon who told me about a conversation he had had with a 17-year schoolboy rugby player. The boy said that in his entire life he had never seen his parents leave for work in the morning because they had never had jobs. They subsisted on social grants because there were no jobs. It was chilling.
This got me thinking about jobs in general and particularly about Donald Trump who has pledged to make America great again and bring back jobs lost to the country when many US companies established production operations in places like Mexico and China. How is Mr Trump planning to bring back jobs?
First, one needs to identify why are more people without jobs today? From what we can identify, one of the key reasons is due to technological advancements in every facet of our lives.
Conferences we attend often feature a futurist who tries to predict which way the world will turn next. They tell us about developments such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality and they preach how these technologies will dwarf the impact that the likes of cell phones have made on our lives.
They ‘say’ Artificial Intelligence will give us driverless cars, buses, trains, shuttles… and they’re not off the mark. I was at an Investec meeting last month where they proudly announced that they had two robots working for them and that they plan to use more robots, which they say work faster and quicker and unerringly carry out instructions.
I was in London and Ireland last week and I experienced this new reality firsthand. I was dropped off at Hammersmith train station and went to a machine to top up my Oyster Travel card. One human was in attendance, keeping an eye on 10 machines (just in case any of them malfunctioned).
A single human on the platform called out announcements and watched for safety breaches. No one checked the ticket on the train. The same procedure again as I boarded a train to Stanstead. Afterwards, I disembarked and scanned my ticket to leave the station, with only one person checking in case any commuter had not paid.
At Stanstead I headed to the Ryanair check in. Luckily, Susan, my PA, had read the ticket, which stated that if you did not check in and download/print your ticket beforehand you would have to pay £45 to have a ticket issued at the airport. My ticket had been e-mailed to me, so no problem in scanning it.
I then placed my bag on a weigh in counter and scanned my ticket. The machine issued me with the bag tag. At the check-in counter, I scanned my ticket and a conveyor belt took my bag away. Not one human was involved in the whole process. Needing a pre-flight sandwich and a bottle of water, I went to the Sainsbury’s outlet where I scanned my purchases and paid. Just one person around to check if all was going smoothly at the tills.
Which brings me back to jobs and joblessness.
Our world is in turmoil, with populist resistance to the opening of borders in a global village, migration and the outsourcing of manufacturing to places where people work harder for less and robots do the rest. South Africa, too, is increasingly replacing people with machines. Consumers might have better experiences and investors will make more money, but the cost will come in jobs.
Mr Trump will find that even if companies bring back their production to the US, they will hire significantly fewer people as robots take over. Rick and I did a tour of SAB’s Newlands Brewery, which is literally next door to our office. We were amazed at how few people are working there. Machines do most of the work.
Worldwide, from our doorsteps in Cape Town to the White House, growing numbers of workers are becoming redundant and marginalised by what is known as disruptive new technologies.
We humans, it seems, will need to adapt and acquire new skills that make us more rounded, flexible, useful and less vulnerable to the relentless march of Artificial Intelligence. We need to hone the way we use what is known as Emotional Intelligence, which robots do not possess – at least not for the time being.