Education and skills development need to adapt to meet the requirements of the next industrial revolution or a significant number of development opportunities will be missed, according to voluntary nonprofit business organisation National Business Initiative climate change, water and green economy programmes leader Steve Nicholls.
During the most recent meeting of infrastructure-focused forum the Infrastructure Dialogues, held at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, in Midrand, in August, he elaborated on mindset changes and how they could affect the socioeconomic environment in South Africa.
Globally, a fourth industrial revolution is under way, during which innovation, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are leading the way in terms of how the world develops and business is conducted. These developments require a generation of people who can easily adapt, with flexible and dynamic skill sets to take technology forward in furthering AI, robotics and automation.
In this regard, Nicholls pointed out that the first cargo-sized seagoing ship with “no staff at all” was months away from being launched.
He added that such leaps in industrial innovation would also impact on employment: “Dialogue [within the World Economic Forum (WEF) foresees] . . . the fourth industrial revolution and mega game changers [driving] a change in employment [and] not a drop in employment”.
According to Nicholls, however, the WEF’s discussion of the type of skill sets and people required to adapt to the new environment picks out as beneficiaries “critical-thinking, creative problem-solving and technology- savvy people”.
Owing to the vast number of uneducated and poorly educated people in South Africa, he says, the country stands to lose out on capitalising on the fourth industrial revolution: “There is this huge population of people who do not have the adaptive capacity and adaptive skill sets required for this kind of . . . industrial revolution.”
Therefore, Nicholls warned, in about 20 years’ time, South Africa was going to be faced with a significant challenge in terms of employment opportunities and available skills. “We are at risk if we remain on the business-as-usual path of adding a huge chunk of unemployed and incorrectly skilled people to a competitive marketplace, where we are already not competitive, and we already have vast numbers of unemployed people.”