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Henry Craukamp, Managing Director, Rockwell Automation Sub-Saharan Africa, says that in preparing current and future generations for the information revolution, the most valuable educational commodity will be adaptability. In this article he identifies two fundamental challenges to be addressed in developing the skills base for the future.

There is a general anxiety among many people when thinking about what the future of their industry might look like in light of our transition to an internet of things-based society: How will the era of artificial intelligence, automation and robots impact on our jobs? And more extremely, what will the role of humanity be when many of the core jobs of the industrial society are replaced by machines?

        Henry Craukamp, MD, Rockwell Automation Sub-Saharan Africa.

But there’s a flipside to this coin of the human-machine relationship. Reconsidering our anxiety and focusing on the solution will help increase our chances of prosperity over the coming decades.

Already faced with more than a quarter of the population being unemployed, the projection that over 75% of current jobs in South Africa will be either rendered obsolete or changed beyond recognition by the Fourth Industrial Revolution seems like an ominous challenge on our horizon.

But this doesn’t automatically translate to job losses. While highly repetitive tasks are indeed being modernised by digital technologies, making an employee twice as productive does not mean halving the availability of jobs: it is estimated that 85% of the jobs that will drive the world economy in 2030 have yet to be created.

This also means that beyond generalised estimations about the types of skills people will need to participate in this new economy, we do not know the precise skillsets these new jobs will require, and therefore do not know how to structure our education system definitively to prepare workers accordingly.[i]

In our own international Rockwell Automation research and development laboratories, new technologies are constantly being introduced, researched and integrated into our operations. The only way to keep up with these quickly evolving technological changes and build sustainable workforce availability to use and master these innovations is to ensure we develop the necessary systems and culture to acquire new knowledge rapidly, on the shop floor.

Rockwell Automation Pic2 IIoT job disruptions

People will need to be able to learn new knowledge more quickly, to constantly redefine their technical and critical skills and adapt to new intellectual viewpoints.

It seems then that our most pressing challenge in developing the skills base for the future is two-fold.

First, we need to develop workers who are not just ‘adequately skilled’ as such, but have as a core skill the very ability to acquire new skills efficiently and to adapt to ongoing transformation of their workplace. A focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, the development of new curricula based around IT/OT convergence and IIoT technology, the integration of tools like wearables (virtual and augmented reality), and a focus on micro certifications will help build essential foundational skills for the employees of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Second, using digital technologies we need to ensure that access to new skills and knowledge can be acquired faster and more efficiently. The use of digital media such as augmented reality in production and training environments is receiving growing attention, with several innovative companies introducing it in their training material to centralise their production methodologies, improving consistency and quality. These technologies can also be a useful medium in the challenge we face in retaining the essential ‘tribal knowledge’ of an organisation and industry, as experienced workers retire and younger workers take their place.

For the moment, these two critical points seem to be prerequisite factors in ensuring a future workforce that is ready for the jobs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

While we contemplate the inevitable disruption of our work environments, we shouldn’t see the role of machines as replacing human capabilities. Instead, we need to focus on a path that will ensure they extend and augment human achievements.

We live in fascinating times.

For more information visit: www.rockwellautomation.com

[i] As part of its efforts to build essential capabilities in technology areas underpinning the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the South African government is introducing subjects such as coding and data analytics at a primary school level to prepare young people for the jobs of the future. Piloting at 1 000 schools across the country will begin in 2020.

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