In 2020, technology is set to continue transforming organisations and skills needs are evolving rapidly.

Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD of ManpowerGroup South Africa

As organisations focus on sustainability, relevance and sourcing and retaining talent, job seekers will need to focus on learnability and skills development.

The South African workforce continues to battle challenges such as the skills gap, a high youth unemployment rate and economic uncertainty, which present challenges for both organisations and job seekers alike.

Despite this, the ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey for Q1 2020 found that 10% of participating employers forecast an increase in payrolls for the quarter, while 81% expect to make no changes.

The country is at the forefront of some important changes surrounding technological uptake and the integration of the 4th Industrial Revolution, which is set to have an impact on all industries and sectors across the board.

These are the trends set to shape South Africa’s labour market in 2020:


Globally, flexibility in terms of working times has gained traction as a means to enhance work-life balance for employees. Business giants like Microsoft have been experimenting with flexible options, such as a 4-day workweek, to boost productivity and attract top talent.

Locally, the trend is beginning to gain traction, with more local companies offering flexible working hours and remote working options – and this will become essential to attracting and retaining top talent in 2020 and beyond.

According to ManpowerGroup Solutions’ report, Work, for Me: Understanding Candidate Demand for Flexibility, 40% of workers said workplace flexibility is one of the top-three motivating factors when making career decisions. In addition, two-thirds of workers suggested they no longer feel the need to sit at their desk to get their work done.

In other words, candidates are seeking a wider variety of flexible workplace options to help them find a better work-life balance, and flexible working arrangements are set to become an essential practice in most organisations.


To stay relevant in the workplace of tomorrow, workers need to focus on nurturing their learnability and developing soft skills. Learnability is defined as the ability and desire to quickly grow and adapt one’s skillset to stay employable for the long-term; and as the skills of the future continue to emerge, learning how to learn will be essential to all job seekers and employees.

As the workplace continues to evolve, employees will need to be as flexible as the business, with multiple layers in terms of their skills and abilities, to ensure they remain relevant within the organisation.

Employers value human skills that endure even as automation proves better at routine tasks.

Workers who demonstrate higher cognitive skills, creativity and the ability to process complex information can expect greater success throughout their careers. Learning is key to being employable now, and for the long term.

Skills transfer

Further, as the skills gap widens, organisations have to shift their focus from solely hiring the right skills to creating and transferring these skills. One of the best ways to build new skills is through mentoring.

Mentorship and career coaching programmes allow more experienced employees to transfer their knowledge and skills to those lesser experienced.

A mentor can help an individual identify areas for growth and development, and provide a low-stress opportunity to have real conversations about their career. Alternatively, being a mentor to others can help build leadership skills by creating opportunities to lead, listen, and identify and solve problems.

This becomes even more crucial when graduates and school leavers are entering the workplace. A graduate may find that even though they’ve spent years preparing their skills, they find themselves at a loss for how their new abilities translate into career transition and advancement and this can set them up for failure.

Well-developed career management strategies and services are set to be more important than ever for both organisational and individual success in 2020.

Human tech integration

There is no doubt that technological advancement and automation is the order of the day across industries and sectors globally, and 2020 is set to see a rise in this, not only in the way organisations do business but in the way they manage their staff.

While this might sound scary to some, it is not all bad news. Recent research carried out by ManpowerGroup shows that 86% of surveyed employers globally plan to increase or maintain headcount as a result of automation.

Rather than reducing employment opportunities, organisations are focusing on investing in digital, shifting tasks to robots and creating jobs. This means scaling up-skilling programs so that the human workforce can perform new and complementary roles to those done by machines.

South Africa is on the forefront of some of a huge shift, gearing toward the 4th Industrial Revolution, which will change the way businesses hire and work, and the way job seekers and employees remain employable.

Focus on sustainability

While organisations globally have been looking at sustainable practices and partnerships over the last few years, 2020 is set to see this expand into the turning of the business, with a specific focus on employee wellbeing and mental health.

Happy and healthy employees are the backbone of a great organisation, since how employees feel directly impacts their contribution in the workplace.

A recent Mind Share Partners study found that half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zs have left a job due to mental health concerns.

Organisations that are able to support their employees can help foster a more productive environment and a more positive outlook for their employees.

Whether this means offering a better work-life balance, offering therapy to employees or focusing on offering meaningful work for employees – organisations should be looking to prioritise employee wellbeing in 2020.

In conclusion, workplace trends for 2020 will focus on creating human skills in a period of technological evolution – and the onus is on both organisations and individuals to work to remain relevant.