4IR is opportunity

Issue 6 2023 News & Events

“The workforce has been transformed by increased 4IR technologies and will continue to do so for the future, which means we need to prepare people with the right skills development and education to seize the opportunities it presents,” says Rebatho Madiba, Business Development Digital Platform Solutions at BCX.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has impelled a transformative journey that is redefining the very nature of work across industries. Driven mainly by the speed of adopting new and emerging technologies, however, we all agree that people remain at the core of these transformations. 4IR is driving the need for new skills and developing those new skills is one of the greatest challenges presented to CEO’s.

According to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) 2023 Future of Jobs Report, 44% of worker skills will be disrupted over the next five years — with analytical skills, creative thinking, and technological literacy among those that will be in the greatest demand. The WEF also predicts that six in ten employees will require further skills training, but many will lack access to the resources they need.

A recent analysis in ScienceDirect pointed out that 4IR skills and research into their evolution is dominating in developed countries with Latin America, Africa and Asia still far behind. It highlighted that, in South Africa, digitalisation remains ‘at a nascent stage’ which means significant work still has to be done when it comes to addressing skills development around 4IR in the country. It is a sentiment echoed by Brookings. The research firm highlights that ‘Africa’s education and industrial policies need to strike a balance’ to ensure that all new ‘labour force entrants have the basic skills and infrastructure required to make a living’.

This is the key. Without adequate skills development that centres on the evolving technology landscape, people will get left behind. Many will be left even further behind than they already are today, and this is an untenable reality. Why? Because if the continent takes its people on the 4IR journey, then the economic and social benefits will follow. If people have the skills they need to step into roles and careers that live within the realm of technology, it will significantly reduce the burden of poverty on the continent and its countries.

This is the reality that spurred the Study on unlocking the potential for the fourth industrial revolution in Africa in collaboration across the African Development Bank, Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Fund, Technopolis Group and other notable institutions with a vested interest in driving the 4IR conversation in Africa. The study underscored the importance of digital skills in allowing for people to connect with the jobs of today with digital literacy a key factor in unlocking economic opportunities. It means that there has to be a shift in how companies, governments and education institutions approach skills development and education – 4IR cuts across sectors and silos, so education and skills development must do the same.

At a time when infrastructures are crumbling and the energy situation is dire across the continent, it feels that perhaps the skills conversation sits at the back of the list of priorities. However, looking forward at what could be if there is a commitment to change and to resolving legacy education challenges, shows a continent that can revisit its role on the global stage. A continent that can pull on the chords of connectivity and ingenuity to revisit infrastructure and reimagine energy. As a recent SARChI Industrial Development Paper in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg pointed out, “Deficiencies in current infrastructure systems also provide a key opportunity for developing 4IR systems.”

Looking ahead, the Africa that takes hold of the potential of 4IR is the one that has leapt over the growing pains experienced by the rest of the world and harnessed next generation technologies from around the world to resolve problems and engage in a digital future. Thanks to the complexities inherent across the continent, people and companies will have created solutions that have global relevance and are a testament to the resilience of Africa. While this future that has everyone connected and digitally empowered remains in the distance, it is achievable with collaboration across public and private sectors and an ongoing commitment to driving skills development.

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