The impact of digitalisation of clearing and forwarding processes on the workforce.
Jin, Emmanuel Nyouweke.
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Globalisation has brought about many changes. There has been substantial innovation in the value creation approach to the supply chain and the application of digital enabling technologies. This has been necessary to meet the ever-increasing demand for goods in the global markets. At the centre of this approach are the activities of customs clearing and forwarding. Trade liberalisation and the standardisation of global customs procedures mean that customs clearing and forwarding agents must deal with greater volumes of goods within a short timeframe. This has necessitated the digitalisation of these processes to perform these tasks quicker and with more accuracy and, often requiring little or no human intervention in some instances. Literature in developed economies indicates a negative impact of this on the workforce in terms of job losses. However, the situation may be felt more in a country like South Africa which is already facing the triple threat of inequality, record-high unemployment, and poverty. This study investigates the impacts of the digitalisation of customs clearing and forwarding processes on workforce and productivity. The research adopted a qualitative approach, using snowball non-probability and purposive sampling techniques. Interviews were conducted with ten selected individuals who each had over 20 years of industry experience in clearing and forwarding. Their experience provided insight which spanned the timeframe under consideration. Data collected through interviews and secondary sources were analysed using open, axial, and selective coding techniques. The analysis was divided into three main themes, namely i) customs clearing and forwarding processes pre-digitalisation (2000-2005); ii) Early digitalisation (2005- 2010); and iii) digitalisation 2010 to present, and its impact on workforce and productivity. Findings showed a negative impact on the workforce in the pre-digitalisation period, with race and gender bias. In the early digitalisation phase, findings showed a negative impact on the workforce, with older workforces reluctant to adapt and going on early retirement or being retrenched. The low productivity in the early inception phase is primarily due to adaptation challenges. In the final phase, digitalisation has positively impacted the workforce and productivity. Companies have embraced technology and can clear more goods within a shorter time, giving them exposure to more international markets, and better growth. They have employed more staff who are young and more technologically inclined. The research informs training policies for those affected by digitalisation, helps training providers align with industry changes, and enables companies to hire adaptable employees for growth and global expansion. A recommendation would be to still tap into the experience of less technically skilled personnel and pair them with young digitally minded youth to bridge the divide in skills transfer.