The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Robots and computers will dramatically change the employment landscape in the next five to eight years. In a country with 27% unemployment, can we afford to keep up with such technology? Should we rather be stalling in order to save jobs? What is the future for man at work?
I love having my finger on the pulse. Staying up to date with trends and technology. And therefore the fourth revolution has my full attention. “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.” (Read more on weforum.org)
The fourth industrial revolution differs from the previous three in the rapidness at which it progresses and in the fact that it distorts the boundaries we know. Not merely mechanisation, mass production or automation, this revolution sees artificial intelligence bringing a whole new perspective to the world we live in. (For a thorough overview, read The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond.)
Other than my interest in technology, I have a passion for job creation. One of the reasons why I am so involved in wine tourism, is the opportunities it creates for employing, schooling and training local communities.
So what would my position be? Will being technology-forward expect me to replace humans with robots in the workforce? To employ artificial intelligence rather than human capital? But what about the people? As with all prior revolutions, there is a threat to job security. It is, however, because we only think about things from our current perspective. We need to be able to advance our thoughts.
Not trying to simplify industry 4.0, employing a robot to do cleaning according to a programmed schedule sounds like a really good idea. No sick days, no taking a child to school, no forgetting or attitude – taking the human factor out of the equation can be quite tempting. But, while a programmed worker in the form of a robot can be ideal in many situations, it is exactly the humanness of people, that will make them irreplaceable in other scenarios. We just need to change the way we think about employment.
Johann Rupert is quoted to say that his family business “has adopted a hiring rule that stipulates employees must be multi-skilled.” (Read more) And I think this is essential to our way forward. No one is sure exactly what this ‘new’ employment landscape will look like. We just know that in less than a decade, having a job might mean something totally different with new job titles, performance requirements and expectations. To ensure we are employable, we will have to change with the times. We need to adapt a new way of doing, make ourselves irreplaceable by having many skills, being flexible and versatile. Although this is not an exact science there is no denying that the world as we know it will change – and quicker than we think.
It is important for individuals to adapt and to be creative in making themselves indispensable, but it is also important on a bigger scale. To stay competitive in the international economy and to ensure coveted products for the export market, South Africa cannot stay behind. Keeping up with technology is a no-brainer, but this dynamic process demands education and training – we need to be empowered to keep up with technology and to make it work for us.
South Africa’s ongoing problems with unemployment, unskilled labour and lack of education will need creative solutions and exceptional insight and leadership. I am very aware of the challenges, but I can’t help to also be excited about the possibilities and opportunities that await with the fourth revolution.