The Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams hosted a roundtable discussion at November 2019’s AfricaCom titled, ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Human Capital Development for Africa.’ She has also recently spoken of an ecosystem of 4IR in “building a capable 4AR Army” to respond to challenges regarding economic growth faced in the youth sector.
Also recently, a report from the African Development Bank (AfDB) was launched at the Africa Investment Forum that shows a continent that is ready to embrace 4IR but needs to improve access to finance, skills and inclusive growth. The report, titled Potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa, highlighted specific areas of growth and investment on the continent, most notably in new technology-led areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data Analytics, additive manufacturing and drones, and the internet of things.
While the report, and the related discussion at The Investment Forum highlighted many of the challenges facing Africa such as lack of coherent, policy, investment in connectivity infrastructure and access to data and the internet, it also noted that for the first time Africa is embarking on an industrial revolution at the same time as the rest of the world.
In September this year, an investment of R140-million ($9.2 million) by US multinational technology conglomerate Cisco was signed as part of a partnership with government in three key areas: job creation through Cisco incubation centres, skills and talent development and National Cyber Security.
The Kagiso Trust also just published the findings of a recently commissioned qualitative and quantitative research study, the first South African study to evaluate, on a large scale, citizen awareness of 4IR and its potential impact on South African society in general.
Some of the results of the research study were:
- Almost half (49.1%) of the respondents believe there will be a societal impact from 4IR
- 2 in 5 of the respondents believe that there will be no job creation with the advent of 4IR
- Just over half of the respondents believe that 4IR will result in large-scale job losses
- Only a quarter of the respondents believe that the 4IR will improve societal equality
With so many developments rapidly taking place, and the still general lack of understanding about just what 4IR entails, it is critical to take a few steps back and clarify some of the essential points around 4IR and how we embrace and proactively address the needs of the 4IR future.
4IR refers to a new era that is rooted in a new technological phenomenon – digitalisation, artificial intelligence, algorithms and data. In order for an economy to benefit from these changes, as opposed to suffer the consequences of the much predicted mass-unemployment that this revolution will hail, there needs to be a 4IR ready workforce.
While many of these technological innovations will mean job losses, there is also the massive opportunity to create jobs via some of the key skills areas required for this new world of work. Some of the essential skill sets include: the “Cloud”, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, data science and analytics, and cyber security.
What will work look like in 2030?
Earlier this year, the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) published a report on the future of work in SA. The report also imagines what the world of work will look like in SA by 2030. They listed the 12 main driving forces that will shape the South African workplace of the future and placed 4IR and technology at the top of the list. With the establishment of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, of which the MICT SETA consults, policy is being developed to address 4IR across various sectors including agriculture, finance, mining, manufacturing, ICT and electronics and business.
For the MICT SETA (Media, Information, and Community Technology), this understanding is especially important as we work with both government and the private sector to train the next generation of workers.
In order to pro-actively address the imminent changes to the work force of South Africa, the MICT SETA has established a 4IR division and Advisory Committees with four work stream areas of focus: education, research, policy and labour. The division will input into Presidential 4IR Commission programmes and ensure alignment with other institutions such as SETAs, academia, public funded research institutions, labour and community on 4IR policy and implementation. The MICT SETA is also in the process of reviewing and developing new qualification that will address the 4IR skills needed for future of works.
As the Head of 4IR at the MICT SETA I am able to see first-hand both the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead and am confident that the multi-faceted and collaborative approach that we are taking will yield results.
The opportunity to create a 4IR ready country and workforce will take an immense amount of resources – but fortunately the process has already begun and as we head into 2020 will accelerate into high gear.