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By Viren Sookhun, MD at Oxyon

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is here, whether we like it or not, and with it will come increasing automation, more use of robotic components, and an urgent need to upskill those whose jobs are in danger of becoming redundant. There are many opportunities for South Africa to benefit from the changes 4IR will bring, but without the skill sets in place, we will fall behind. The time is now. We need to focus on skills development and education, or risk falling further and further behind on a global scale.

Top tier skills in high demand

With increasing automation, it makes sense that the lower-level jobs are the ones that are in danger. Along the same lines, however, the skills right at the top of the pyramid are increasingly in demand, and in fact are already in scarce supply. For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) Talent Gap Report highlights “an increase in the number of jobs requiring project management-oriented skills, higher demand due to economic growth, and retirement rates” which will “create the global need for 25 million new project professionals by 2030”. The report also looks at the gap in demand for skills and availability of talent.

Finding the opportunity

On a local level, the same skill sets will be in demand due to a number of specialised projects in the pipeline, including renewable energy, mining, infrastructure, construction and development. South Africa is also considered an attractive destination for the manufacture of robotic components, which will be critical to 4IR. We have the ideal climate, access to import and export through our harbour network, and are well positioned to distribute the finished goods. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, we need to ensure that we have the right skills in place.

The bottom line is that skills development from the bottom up is critical to enabling South Africa to reap the benefits of 4IR. If every person in the employment pyramid can be continuously skilled to reach higher and higher levels, we will be able to address skills gaps right through from semi-skilled labourers to highly skilled professionals. Filling the skills gaps is a continuous process and there needs to be collaboration between the Sector Education Training Authorities (SETAs), the Department of Education (DoE) and the private sector.

The cycle of skills

While it is true that automation and robotics will replace the lower-level jobs, there will be increased job creation at higher levels, and even roles we cannot fathom at present. Whatever is made redundant and taken away will create the need for a more specialised skill elsewhere, such as for developers, maintenance technicians, project managers and more. The opportunities are there, but we need to start now, from the ground up – beginning with basic education in our schools. Basic coding skills will be a requirement for practically any job in the future, and the lack of adoption and acceptance of 4IR could prove to be a stumbling block for South Africa.

For international companies looking to leverage the potential of the South African market, the right labour partner is vital to ensuring the appropriate skills are available and continuously developed, as well as for handling the complexities of the local market. From advisory services at the outset, to assistance with community development and meeting legislative requirements, an employer-centric labour partner is an invaluable asset.

To fill the need for skills at a higher level, we need to upskill form the bottom, and this starts with education. This is a continuous process that needs partnership and collaboration between public and private sector, and labour partners must play an active role. The bottom line is that 4IR is here, it is the future, and South Africa needs to take steps to become an active contributor to the new world.



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