The Future of Human Capital

Time is Running Out to Prepare for the Future
And What You Can Do About It

Sharmla Chetty | August 2017

I want you to imagine that in just a few years you will be boarding a flight as part of a business trip. You have requested the window seat and you are settling into your usual flight routine. You have your laptop out and will begin fine tuning your presentation as soon as the seat belt signs are switched off.

Except that on this flight there are no pilots. The plane is about to fly itself.

You see, driverless cars quickly paved the way for pilotless aircraft. It was, in hindsight, an obvious progression. Airlines quickly realised they could reduce their operational costs through automated flight resulting in thousands of aviators being laid off. Only a handful were retained, not to fly, but to report for work at the airlines headquarters. There these carefully selected pilots would remotely take over the controls of any aircraft that was experiencing a technical fault or an emergency.

Their skill set had changed from flying a particular model of plane to being able to run the aviator operating system now installed in all commercial planes. These pilots were also selected on their technical knowledge and elite ability to be calm under pressure, even though they were no longer at risk of actually dying in a crash.

Airlines that didn’t make the switch fast enough could not compete, their profit margins dropped until they were either forced to overhaul their fleet or go out of business.

As futuristic as this scenario may appear it is still plausible, if not quite likely. The question facing companies now is how will technology disrupt our business and what are the skill sets we need in order to survive and prosper? Technology won’t move the world forward on its own. Humans will always play a part. But how?

The late Swedish statistician, Hans Rosling, calculated the planet’s population would stabilise at 11 billion by the end of the century. Africa’s population will double by then, while Europe and North America remain pretty much as they are now. How will these regions prepare themselves for unprecedented changes in labour and business when there are currently vast differences in the skills level of their populations?

As the President of Africa and Global Managing Director of Europe for Duke Corporate Education I am constantly intrigued by these questions. Economists agree that human capital is vitally important for a country’s or organisation’s success, and human capital increases through education and experience.

In South Africa, where structural unemployment is a barrier to progress, companies need to do two vital things. First, they need to accept the future will arrive sooner than they think. Pilotless planes will be a reality during your business lifetime. Secondly, the work to prepare for these disrupting times starts now. How you align your workforce, train and invest in them will determine who the winners and losers of tomorrow will be. The good news is that many business leaders have already acknowledged this, thus upping their chance of survival.

My team and I in Johannesburg will be hosting a series of conferences on Human Capital in the coming months. Our invitation only one-day conference, The Human Difference: Leadership in a Digital World, will be August 17.   

Learn more about Duke Corporate Education in South Africa.