Highly skilled people in service industries more under threat, says expert

Jobs of white-collar workers under threat in hi-tech age

People in production are now at less risk of losing jobs, compared to those highly skilled people in service industries, says business analyst Francois Fouche.
NOT SO SECURE: People in production are now at less risk of losing jobs, compared to those highly skilled people in service industries, says business analyst Francois Fouche.
Image: TED KEENAN

The disruptive impact of the technological age has shifted focus from slashing jobs in the blue-collar, repetitive-job sectors, and has zeroed in on the white-collar workers, earning high salaries.

“People producing products are now at less risk of losing jobs, compared to those highly skilled people in service industries,” added Francois Fouche, of Trade Advisory, in a presentation on Thursday at the East Capein East London.

“The reason is that rapidly evolving technology has seen international trade shift focus away from products towards services that leap borders effortlessly, which products cannot do.”

Fouche is an adviser at Trade Advisory, a North West University spin-off research business.

In his early career he worked for Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates, a US-based commercial think-tank founded by Nobel prize winner Dr Lawrence Klein.

His responsibilities included macro-economic modelling and econometric analysis of selected sub-Sahara African countries.

He recently acted as a financial economics adviser to the Reserve Bank of South Africa.

Fouche said arbitrage opportunities, where salaries in one country are much lower than others, will change service jobs, simply because of massive wage differences.

“An accountant in US earns five times more than one in Poland. A nurse in Kenya, 20 times less than the counterpart in Germany. Skilled people who work from home in one country can use the massive high-tech developments totheir skills to another country, especially if there is a large difference in salaries.”

The same is not possible with products, because they have to physically cross borders, which offers a degree of protection to the local manufacturing workers.

In addition, research showed a steady decline of ocean-crossing exports of products and an ever-increasing trade with neighbours, which creates significant opportunity for South African companies tointo Africa.

“Digital technology allows skilled workers to effectively leap borders while remaining in their office. It is the age of tele-commuting to areas of demand, in effect foreign freelancers.

“They can earn money anywhere they choose, and the more specialised their job, the more they are in demand.

Language used to be a barrier as much as a border is, but that has changed, said Fouche.

There are programmes that allow almost instantaneous translation of most languages. He said Skype and similar programmes created a global office where communication could be both verbal and visual.

“Trade Advisory is involved in working with a group in China. A few years ago, communications would have made this a long process, with them speaking Mandarin and us English. Not today. There is quick translation, making communication fast and accurate.”

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