Opportunities abound with 4IR in SA but the skills just aren’t there.

6 Jan

4IR, opportunities abound, no skills – so what? Well for one, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this could be a bizarre paradoxical movie plot, but sadly it’s not. What it is, is an opportunity for South Africa to remain competitive in the global economy if we learn to embrace 4IR.

The term 4IR refers to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution, which is already upon us, is set to flood the South African job market with opportunities that South Africa quite simply isn’t prepared for. A shortage of skills due to a lack of technical infrastructure, leadership and regulatory frameworks could seriously hamper our opportunity to embrace 4IR in South Africa.

Strong Leadership Needed to Develop High-End Skills

The issue was recently addressed at the 2019 Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) President’s Awards. High-end job skills are severely wanting in SA as a result of a lack of funds for studying and poor government support when it comes to educating the population. Addressing attendees made it clear that the anticipated business and job opportunities resulting from 4IR could only benefit South Africa if the country as a whole, was prepared to embrace a new approach to skills development and education.

A speaker at the IITPSA President’s Awards commented that: “(4IR) is a social transformation process, sustained over time, involving diverse stakeholders”. It’s evident from these words that the country has to focus on providing skills development and education in a variety of industries and areas if SA wants to be part of, and benefit from, 4IR.

What is Needed for 4IR to Have an Impact in SA?

To begin with, 4IR needs to be accepted and then worked with throughout the country. To do this, government, business, and the average man on the street all need to work together. Leadership training, innovation, and learning need to be driving factors.

Several speakers at the IITPSA President’s Awards also touched on the fact that SA needs to focus on training people in various areas of technology including robotics, AI (Artificial Intelligence), cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Why South Africa Lacks 4IR Skills

According to the associate professor of the Department of Computing Sciences at Nelson Mandela University, Professor Jean Greyling, there are several reasons why SA lacks 4IR skills. Some of the reasons include:

  • Over 50% of SA schools don’t have computer labs or internet access.
  • SA has a shortage of teachers able to teach robotics and programming.
  • Learners from disadvantaged communities don’t have access to funds or facilities for learning.

The Head of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) for Womandla Foundation, Rumbidzaishe Maisva made a valid point when she said that South African’s are resisting 4IR for fear of losing their jobs to automated processes. Maisva affirmed that: “Unfortunately this poses such a major challenge because ignoring the new technologies and hoping they would go away would adversely affect the South African economy and set back South Africa from taking the lead in a global market”.

Last Word

South African’s need to put their fears aside and embrace the changes that 4IR will bring. While some jobs will be replaced by automation, many more will be created. Perhaps even better opportunities exist for those who have a fear of job loss. The government also needs to focus on providing affordable or free skills in developing training for underprivileged communities. Will this happen? Only time will tell.

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