Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) accelerates the need to upskill

Michele du Plessis
“Unless we adapt, unless we understand the nature of the profound change that is reshaping our world, and unless we readily embrace the opportunities it presents, the promise of our nation’s birth will forever remain unfulfilled,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in April 2019.
He said revolutionary advances in technology were reshaping the way people work and live. In the same address, the President announced the establishment of a Presidential Commission on 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution). The Covid pandemic and the resultant lockdown that SA experienced, accelerated the move to a more technologically driven country.

President Ramaphosa urged the Commission to place 4IR at the centre of economic recovery, to enable the country to emerge from the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “South Africa must be a more technologically driven country that finds solutions that move us forward, with 4IR as a pivot for economic recovery.” The President said digital transformation had to be harnessed “to change the way we live, learn, work and govern” The Commission made recommendations spanning such strategic areas as the country’s investment in human capital; artificial intelligence; advanced manufacturing and new materials; the provision of data to enable innovation; future industries and 4IR infrastructure.

In a survey run by Deloitte’s, 100 South African executives were polled- along with others around the globe- about their view on the promise of 4IR and their companies’ readiness to embrace 4IR. Only 4% of SA executives polled- versus 14% globally- were confident about their business’s readiness to embrace Industry 4.0. A staggering 73% of SA executives felt that 4IR technology would replace human workers rather the complimenting them, as opposed to 47% globally. While 86% of global executives believed that they were doing well at preparing their workforce for 4IR, only 63% of South African executives agreed. Many worry that South Africa’s lack of infrastructure, skills base and low levels of digital literacy would hamper the ambitious plans held by Ramaphosa and his commission. Perhaps unsurprisingly, South African executives also believe, more strongly than execs globally that the workforce is trending toward contractual/ temporary employees rather than full-time, permanent workers.

South African execs expressed greater confidence than their global counterparts that the current education system will prepare workers for 4IR, and they believe that their current employees can be retrained to have the skills required in the new era.  “The current people who’ve got skills need to be reskilled and people also need to be upskilled. So we now need to look at the skills revolution in a new way and make sure that our people do get skills and in many ways, it will require a lot of investment, we will need to invest. We also need to look at the transition support for working people in their transition, so that there is just transition as people lose jobs. We must know that there will be a just transition,” said President Ramaphosa during the 4IR summit.

“It’s an inescapable fact of life that technology is driving change across the world, across industries, across economies. The view is that there will be more jobs, not fewer, as a result of digitisation. Just one example is a company called Dada, which operates as the Uber of e-commerce in China – delivering online orders within 24 hours. It employs six million people, and all those jobs are a result of the rise of e-commerce in China. In South Africa, I believe we need to accelerate the pace with which we embrace digitisation and technological change. That will enable us to push back against our high unemployment. We must recognise that certain jobs are going to be disrupted. So employers must manage the transition and help their employee’s transition from their current skills or roles to the jobs of the future.

New training and career-development interventions will be needed to enable people to reposition themselves for the demands of the future. We should embrace technology as a catalyst to repurpose and reskill our people, enabling them to be better employees and better human beings,” Kuseni Dlamini, Chairman, Massmart said in the article Digitisation will create more jobs, not fewer, published in the McKinsey & Company’s The Future of Work in South Africa report. It is a fact that the 4IR and the advance of technology will change the way people work in SA. If harnessed correctly, millions of new jobs can be created and South Africa will experience a skill revolution, creating a better future for all.

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