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Fourth Industrial Revolution: SA must up its game when it comes to tech, computer learning

The use of technology and of computer learning are going to be needed even more if South Africa wants to compete on the international stage, Michael Bagraim says. File picture: Ross Jansen/African News Agency

The use of technology and of computer learning are going to be needed even more if South Africa wants to compete on the international stage, Michael Bagraim says. File picture: Ross Jansen/African News Agency

Published Dec 17, 2021

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Cape Town - After the advent of Covid-19 and the devastating lockdown, many businesses were forced to explore changing the nature of their way doing business.

Almost across the board businesses started exploring virtual meetings and alternative use of technology.

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The Third Industrial Revolution had, to a large degree, not been embraced by many.

My legal firm conducted all meetings on a face-to-face basis and documents were hand delivered.

Although we made copious use of the internet, we saw this as a secondary help in most circumstances.

With the need to stay at home, we had to start exploring the value of the various internet platforms for virtual meetings and even virtual litigation.

Within two months of the lockdown the business moved on to the virtual platform with most discussions moving away from the telephone.

This was not the Fourth Industrial Revolution but a structured use of the Third Industrial Revolution.

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As we move further down the line we start exploring the Fourth Industrial Revolution. For instance, opinion work can effectively be computer driven.

I will be handling this in a later column but we are starting to explore these avenues like many of our counterparts in other continents.

With the fast-changing technological advances we are able to come up with new capabilities.

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We are living through business and sociological changes and it is affecting every single industry.

The real problem with this is that many of these changes mean jobless growth. In essence, with almost 50% unemployment in South Africa, we can ill afford to pursue this Fourth

Industrial Revolution at the cost of further job creation and at the cost of mass retrenchment.

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Don’t get me wrong, I strongly support the use of technology and the use of computer learning.

We are going to need more and more of this if South Africa is to continue to compete on the international stage.

However, we must be aware we have millions of South Africans who don’t have the current education to support the absorption into this Fourth Industrial Revolution. This new revolution is misunderstood and will probably be never understood by the majority of us living today.

What I do know is that businesses across the globe are starting to use some of the changes which are taking place at a fast rate.

These changes are making millions of jobs redundant and transforming the business model for many employers.

Already we are seeing manufacturing plants with no actual workers. We see computers, machinery and computer scientists. Very few technicians are needed to ensure the machinery runs smoothly. We don’t recognise these new businesses as factories.

The emerging technology is unfolding and is changing our lives. Hopefully educational systems are changing at the same time and hopefully governments are starting to think strategically.

Often our government boasts that there has been an investment from some or other foreign entity.

These investments promise to produce goods in South Africa and we interpret this to mean more people will be employed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. My recommendation is that we try and attract those industries that need more and more actual workers as we have the manpower and a very affordable wage structure.

We have a workforce which is readily available and industrious.

The workers in South Africa need their jobs and we can certainly oblige by making a conducive employment environment to produce whatever is needed worldwide. It is incumbent upon our government to recognise the Fourth Industrial Revolution will wipe out many jobs.

In line with creating this manufacturing hub, we need to ensure our labour laws recognise we will be competing with highly industrialised countries who are already embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We can’t compete at this stage with the smart and connected systems abroad.

We can however compete with countries who are obliged to pay higher wages and we can compete with countries who don’t have the young workforce who are physically able to get involved in production immediately.

It must be understood that in South Africa today we are benefiting from the technology.

We have businesses who exclusively use the virtual platforms such as Airbnb and Uber.

Instead of fighting these platforms we need to try and structure how we can use the workers of South Africa to enhance these platforms. We must start thinking of ways and means of creating labour intensity around all virtual platforms.

To start looking at ways and means of structuring our labour law to hamper virtual platforms is counter productive.

I strongly believe we should look at the changes, embrace them and then explore ways and means of employing people to enhance the servicing of these products. Likewise, our schooling and tertiary education must immediately start embracing all the possibilities of that fourth Industrial Revolution.

We have over 10 million unemployed and we need to start bringing them back to enhance all the digital applications.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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