Businesses in South Africa need to better prepare for Industry 4.0

22 August 2019 2 min. read

In an interview with CNBC Africa, Principal Consultant at Mercer South Africa Deon De Swardt has asserted that the overall level of preparedness for the fourth industrial revolution is low across South Africa. Businesses must introspect to develop more concrete plans of action when it comes to the future workforce.

While the advent of Industry 4.0 has meant different things to different markets, the biggest concern in South Africa has been the impact that it is likely to have on the workforce. Unemployment levels in South Africa are among the highest in the world, and many have anticipated that technology will further exacerbate this situation.

The government has demonstrated its awareness in this regard, with the President stating that the situation is only likely to get worse. In the private sector, a number of firms have asserted the need to evolve the workforce in order to mitigate the potentially harmful impact of technology.

Development of digital skills among the youth is likely to be crucial to rectify the situation. Although De Swardt anticipates that this solution is likely to take a number of years to implement. While the public and private sectors are aware of the need to develop digital skills, the level of preparedness amongst businesses and the level of focus in the government falls short by De Swardt’s standards. For the business environment, De Swardt recommends starting from within.Businesses in South Africa need to better prepare for Industry 4.0 “One of the key things that we advise clients to do is to start thinking about how could things like artificial intelligence and robotics impact jobs in the future, and to start thinking about if were going to start implementing this 3-4 years from now, how do I start preparing the workforce, and how do I understand what is the impact on jobs,” he explains. 

This impact, according to De Swardt, should be examined within three broad parameters. The first is the number of routine jobs within an organisation, and the share of these that is likely to be impacted by automation. The second is the change in organisational shape that technology is likely to being about.

Improved digital connectivity has created a number of options when it comes to working arrangements, exemplified by the emergence of flexible alternatives in the gig economy, and a more flexible workforce structure. Businesses must assess the scope of their individual organisations to implement such changes.

Lastly, within the broad domain of digital skills, businesses must examine the exact nature of digital skills that they will require in the future, and that they will demand from future employees. Once there is more clarity in these expectations, more concrete steps can be taken to develop an evolved workforce.