The Future of jobs and skills report conducted by the World Economic Forum reports that in the past decade 26% of new employments in South Africa have been in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). In the same time frame, 6.7% and 18.4% of new employments in Ghana and Kenya respectively, were also in ICT industries. These statistics are indicative of Africa’s adoption of the 3rd Industrial Revolution characterised by digitization, automations, computing and electronics. This leapfrogging offers sceptics an anti-thesis to the narrative that says Africa is not ready for the 4th industrial revolution. While it is true that Africa found and continues to find adoption of technologies of the 1st and 2nd industrial revolutions challenging, this does not hold true for the 3rd revolution. Technologies of the 3rd revolution are less hardware intensive giving opportunity to those with limited resources to participate in economic activity. This is in addition to the social aspects of digital and mobile technologies which are also transferrable between people, industries and communities. Africa is in fact the region which has displayed the most potential and advancement in ICT. The question is, how are policy makers and the private sector contributing to this adoption? What is being done to ensure that enough support is directed towards advancements is technology? And more importantly, how is education being amended to cater for the technological changes and demands being experienced today? Corporates, government and educational institutions need to collaborate to upskill the nation for the digital economy.
As a major by-product of the 4th industrial revolution is the transformation of the continent’s workforce. An effort to design initiatives tailored for the African context to upskill nations for the digital economy must be made. Such skills are imperative as industry 4.0 presents changes in how business will be conducted particularly in industries such as agriculture, healthcare, financial systems and manufacturing which are critical to the development of Africa. Technology focused education that will address Africa’s social ills and promote participation in the value chain will yield positive results for African economies. The creation of the right skills would also bridge the divide between emerging and developed markets. The youth Of South Africa is already displaying how such an education would benefit communities through Nka’Thuto EduPropeller and its programme.
The programme, designed to upskill grade 8 to 11 learners in township and rural communities with skills necessary for industry 4.0 has started displaying how these skills can benefit society. The learners in the programme identify problems and develop technology based solutions and over the past two years the nature of the solutions have been a source of great insight where the appetite of the youth is situated from a technological standpoint. Zooming into the class of 2018 a clear uptake of technologies of this revolution were exhibited. Problems identified by the learners as social ills covered a broad range of challenges that face Africa. These problems range from the corruption that clouds the judgement of decisions made on behalf of impoverished citizens to teenage pregnancies, drug abuse and the crisis of water scarcity and sanitation to mention a few. Surprisingly, given the limited resources of the learners in the programme one would not expect the solutions presented by these learners to be so well situated in the technologies of industry 4.0. In the absence of sophisticated laboratories and limited exposure to connectivity and programming, these youngsters are proof that the education system is outdated, and the learners desire a curriculum that is relevant to the digital and knowledge economy. 54% of the solutions presented included technologies such as nanotechnology, data analytics, mobile applications, machine to machine learning, internet of things and artificial intelligence. These results show that problem based learning approaches where learners are given tasks that encourage critical thinking, creativity, complex information processing and interpretation, basic digital skills and advanced IT skills and programming. According to the McKinsey Global Institute report on “Skill shift – automation and the future of the workforce”, these are some of the skills that will be utilised the most in the year 2030. The world economic forum projects that the working-age in Africa will increase to 600 million in 2030 from 370 million in 2010. Furthermore, they project that the population of Africans with secondary education will increase from 36% in 2010 to 52% in 2030 leaving 48% of the population without secondary education. These statistics while alarming, give a clear direction of action which involves the preparation of the future work force.
Governments, the private sector, civic society and educational institutions must come together to address the catastrophe of a under-developed and underutilized human capital against the pressures that will be presented by Industry 4.0. The craving of todays youth for an advanced education in the wake of this industry needs to be fed. As decision makers and thought leaders, we should not allow our short-sightedness hinder the progression of todays youth who are the decision makers and leaders of tomorrow.