A hi-tech rev­o­lu­tion of note is com­ing HOW TO BE PRE­PARED

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Khanya Vi­lakazi Khanya Vi­lakazi is the Hu­man Cap­i­tal and Skills De­vel­op­ment Man­ager at the Steel and En­gi­neer­ing In­dus­tries Fed­er­a­tion of South­ern Africa.

THE WORLD is at the cusp of a hitech rev­o­lu­tion that is pro­foundly al­ter­ing the way we live and work. This rev­o­lu­tion will per­ma­nently al­ter our fun­da­men­tal per­cep­tion of work and, most no­tably, our abil­ity to trade time and skill for money. How­ever, one thing is clear: the re­sponse to this change must be in­te­grated and com­pre­hen­sive. And it must be now.

In 2015 the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WEF) coined the phrase the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion for the sweep­ing changes that are the re­sult of tech­nol­ogy. This re­port, by Pro­fes­sor Klaus Sch­wab, founder and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the WEF, pre­dicted that there are 7.1 mil­lion job losses ex­pected over the next five years. This pro­jec­tion fur­ther erodes the al­ready scarred South African labour land­scape.

The First In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion used wa­ter and steam power to mech­a­nise pro­duc­tion. The Sec­ond used elec­tric power to cre­ate mass pro­duc­tion. The Third used elec­tron­ics and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy to au­to­mate pro­duc­tion. The Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion is build­ing on the Third. This dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion is char­ac­terised by a blend­ing of tech­nolo­gies and af­fects ev­ery in­dus­try.

In terms of this trend, tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion will lead to long-term gains in ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity. How­ever, this rev­o­lu­tion will yield greater in­equal­ity, par­tic­u­larly in its po­ten­tial to dis­rupt labour mar­kets. As au­to­ma­tion sub­sti­tutes for labour across the en­tire econ­omy, the net dis­place­ment of work­ers by ma­chines will stretch the gap be­tween re­turns to cap­i­tal and re­turns to labour.

Sub­sti­tute work­ers

Al­ready, in 2012 Mo­men­tum Ma­chines built a ro­bot that can make, wrap and bag 360 in­di­vid­u­ally cus­tomised ham­burg­ers in an hour. Con­trast that with one burger in eight min­utes by a team of McDon­ald’s hu­man staff. This de­vice is clearly not meant to make em­ploy­ees more ef­fi­cient, but to sub­sti­tute them com­pletely, dis­rupt­ing the job mar­ket al­to­gether.

I am cer­tain that tal­ent, more than cap­i­tal, will rep­re­sent the crit­i­cal factor of pro­duc­tion. This will give rise to a di­chotomy job mar­ket that is po­larised into “low-skill/low-pay and high-skill/high­pay” spheres, as ar­tic­u­lated by Pro­fes­sor Klaus Sch­wab. Tal­ent man­age­ment will be the key to sur­vival for busi­nesses, big or small.

The great­est chal­lenge for in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing in such a swiftly evolv­ing so­cial and eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment is how to trans­fer knowl­edge and skills to stu­dents that will serve th­ese in­sti­tu­tions in the long-term when the pace of change is as­tound­ing.

The South African gov­ern­ment, its Sec­tor Education and Train­ing Au­thor­i­ties, train­ing com­mit­tees and other pol­icy mak­ers must re­think the skills strate­gies that are fail­ing to pre­pare the work­force for the su­per­sonic pace of change that is un­set­tling ev­ery in­dus­try and dic­tat­ing ev­ery as­pect of how we work and how we live. More than 35 per­cent of the skills con­sid­ered im­por­tant in to­day’s work­force will have changed within five years.

This calls for train­ing in­sti­tu­tions to re­model train­ing if some oc­cu­pa­tions will sig­nif­i­cantly change or al­to­gether dis­ap­pear by the time the stu­dents grad­u­ate. To­day’s chal­lenges de­mand mas­tery of facts or con­cepts.

At the same time, fixed-job de­scrip­tions are be­com­ing ob­so­lete and em­ploy­ees will now be re­quired to per­form func­tions out­side of their former job de­scrip­tions.

We have heard a grow­ing out­cry about the qual­ity of our ar­ti­sans (and in other oc­cu­pa­tions), de­spite very im­pres­sive aca­demic records. This, then, begs the ques­tion: are we train­ing peo­ple for a world that no longer ex­ists?

The Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion af­firms that knowl­edge is no longer an end in it­self, but rather a re­source which should be used to cre­ate new knowl­edge.

The bot­tom line, how­ever, is still the same: busi­ness lead­ers and se­nior ex­ec­u­tives need to un­der­stand their chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, chal­lenge the as­sump­tions of their op­er­at­ing teams, and re­lent­lessly and con­tin­u­ously in­no­vate.

To­day, in our volatile and dig­i­tal world, there is un­recog­nised risk in not tak­ing risks, es­pe­cially to adapt to the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, and per­haps the Fifth one that may catch some or­gan­i­sa­tion off guard.

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