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OPINION: South Africa’s Workplace In The Age Of The 4IR

Fourth Industrial Revolution. Picture: Pexels

The rise of the fourth industrial revolution brings several opportunities and challenges within South Africa’s workplace as well as globally. It is an exciting time, where the world is changing, and Artificial Intelligence, big data, analytics and robotics are set to make companies more productive. An exciting part of this change is the influence and dominance of AI within the workplace.

With the unemployment rate already at an alarming rate of 29.1%; 38.2% of the nation’s youth unemployed and retrenchments on the rise, the 4IR for most people is not an exciting time. Most South Africans are fearful of losing their jobs, and those who are unemployed remain discouraged to apply for jobs. But it is at this point where the country finds itself at a crossroads where up-skilling and closing the talent gap should be at the forefront of driving economic growth, using the 4IR.

The employment statistics paint a very gloomy picture, but it also presents big businesses and the South African government with a number of opportunities.

Closing the Skills Gap

Skills gap and talent shortage have been a challenge for most sectors, especially those within the hard sciences and financial services in South Africa. With most industries embracing the 4IR, this becomes more challenging for businesses, but in this case, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Big companies are encouraged to create innovative tailor-made programmes and solutions that will speak to the needs of that specific sector and businesses. This will cause a dent on profit margins, but it will be beneficial in the long term. Investing in people is imperative for business to thrive in this economy that will be driven by 4IR solutions.

Remodelling of the education system

South Africa’s education system has, for the longest time not enabled young people to be innovative thinkers and pioneers. Compared to countries like China, where pupils as young as 6-year old are taught about robotics and coding, South Africa lags behind significantly. In South Africa, most young people only start learning coding in university and how to use a computer in the first year. However, it is not all doom and gloom; the implementation of smart schools by the Gauteng government is a step in the right direction. The prioritization of coding in schools by the government is a small step towards the evolution of the country’s education system, which will be essential in the ever-evolving workplace.

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Merging Emotional and Artificial Intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence is all well and good, but the downfall of this is the lack of emotional intelligence that accompanies the usage of robotics and chat-bots. Humans will still play a vital role in the 4IR; companies need to look at solutions that will complement artificial intelligence, in this case, it will be human supervision and the human touch that will guide social interactions with robotics.

Transforming the economy – a push for fintech

For the longest time, the South African economy has been a primary based economy driven by its rich resources. The Government has prioritized the 4IR and Small to medium enterprises in efforts of creating economic growth. The 4IR will largely revolve around services which means the SA economy must experience a shift, big businesses that have offered these services are now challenged by small businesses offering these services using chat-bots, replacing the human interaction. Even though this might seem as advocating for job cuts, this will actually drive economic growth and create jobs that we have not imagined. The automation of services will still need a human element when a complaint or complex issue has to be addressed.

The future is exciting, there are threats but there are also opportunities. It will all depend on how people embrace the changes. But big business and government must look at the positive, be innovative as this is a chance to change the fate of South Africa’s workforce and economic growth.

About The Author: Kagiso Mkhonza

As a public affairs consultant for a business communication consultancy, I am very passionate about writing, foreign policy and political analysis. I recently completed my Honours in International Relation focused on South Africa’s voting behavior in the United Nations Security Council. 2020 UJ Master of Arts’ candidate in International Relations.

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