Industrial Revolution number 4 | it’s about work

Industrial Revolution number 4 | it’s about work

It is important to state upfront that this is not a political nor racially motivated post. This is a post that is trying to objectively look at the facts around technology adoption and the way in which the 4th Industrial Revolution is going to affect each and every one of us. Whether we like it or not.

The Cold Light of Day

The official unemployment figures for South Africa came out yesterday (30 July, 2019) and they are staggering.

South African unemployment jumps to a 16-year high of 29%

Whilst this is not the highest level of unemployment that we have had. The highest being in 2003 when that number pushed over 31%; it is still basically a third of our population that is not a contributing member of our economy.

In real numbers; that is 6 700 000 people. That is basically the entire population of Libya.

This huge unemployment number translates to there being massive squalor and poverty in South Africa. This is measured by the Gini coefficient. And truth be told, we have the largest one in the world!

In simple terms, the Gini coefficient is one that measures the inequality between the rich and the poor. It is a measure of inequality. The closer to zero, the more equal a population. The closer to one, the more inequality exists. Our number is 0.62.

What’s Being Done in SA

The absolute cynic in me wants to say, “not enough” (that was the PC version). But in truth there are pockets of activity that are trying to combat, particularly: youth unemployment.

The most talked about at the moment is the YES programme which is part of the NDP 2030 plan.

This as well as a host of other initiatives are all vital in trying to curb this problem; but the one fundamental truth that holds true is that slow economic growth means reduced employment creation. Couple this to an increasingly capital intensive economy; a shortage of job-relevant skills and a sub-par education system.

Enter the 4th Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolutions are not new, per se.

We are rapidly entrenching ourselves in the 4th era of industrialisation. One where computers and manufacturing are transforming at a rapid rate of knots. They are transforming the way we interact with each other. The way we work and the way we learn.

The 4th Industrial Revolution demands that we advance ourselves! We cannot use the past as a proxy for the future as the rules for the future have not been written yet. Things are evolving at an unprecedented rate and as a country we have to keep up.

A while ago I wrote that we are becoming a culture of grey. A culture where we are too scared of upsetting anyone that we are forced to become hyper-tolerant and all-inclusive.

This pseudo-liberal-socialism tolerance is one that I fear flies in the face of 4IR. The greatest degree of growth and advancement is birthed out of discomfort. Please don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that we need to offend everyone at every turn. I am saying that we cannot delay progress, advancement and growth for the sake of not offending someone.

In the 4IR era; people are going to lose their jobs. This is not a dystopian exaggeration; it is a fact that we are seeing each and every day.

  • Uber – 400 jobs (global)
  • Tongaat Hulett – 500 jobs (SA)
  • Absa – 827 jobs (SA)
  • Group 5 – 1 000 jobs (SA)
  • Sibanye-Stillwater – 2 450 jobs (SA)
  • Multichoice – 2 000 jobs (SA)
  • to be continued……..

Take Advantage of 4IR

As a country we cannot shy away from a few stark realities.

We need to create the right kind of jobs.

The first is: to grow our economy (which is currently shrinking) we need to create more jobs. This thought flies in the face of 4IR which is almost as a grounding principle about less jobs (to a point).

The machines cannot do everything. There is a certain level of interpretation, understanding, intuition and art that a machine cannot duplicate. Human experience here is critical. Machines are excellent at repetitive tasks. Tasks that take us too long to do and with too high a degree of error. But the interpretation of those massive patterns is something that we can do incredibly well! Drawing conclusions from disparate sets of data is just one area where a data scientist and a machine will have to work in harmony.

We need the right kind of education.

The second is: we need to train our people differently. We need to teach our children differently. Whilst a degree is definitely still something to strive for and hold dear; there is a lot to be said about understanding how artisans have a major role to play in the building of this country.

The sooner we get a child access to the basic building blocks of how the future is going to function the better. Teach them critical thinking; how to code; teach them to collaborate; how to communicate. Apart from STEM; these are the critical skills of the future.

We need the right economic incentives.

The third is: we cannot take from the rich to give to the poor. Solving our Gini coefficient problem is not going to happen by redistributing wealth from the top down. It is not about stunting the growth at the top of the pyramid. It is only possible by fuelling the bottom of the pyramid. We need to economically grow the bottom of the pyramid.

Encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses that employ people. Cut down the red tape that ranks South Africa 82 out of 192 countries in the Ease of Doing Business index.

The Industrial Revolution Is Not Stopping

Simply put, the 4th Industrial Revolution is not going to give us a break to catch our breath. It is not stopping. To remain competitive on an African stage and to become competitive on a global one; South Africa has to start embracing the advantages cocooned within these new ways of working.

We need to put the future of our country first. We need to build the future we deserve while we still can. Our greatest opportunity if left unattended for too long will become our biggest downfall. We must progress. Change is inevitable and we must adapt our frame of reference!

We are accountable for the future we leave to those who come after us; let us not leave a legacy of greed, squalor, inequality and missed opportunities.

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