The potential the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will have on Africa is significant. Mobile technologies and services have already generated 1.7 million direct jobs. Digitisation is resulting in increased efficiencies bringing with it fresh opportunities for economic growth and job creation. But if the continent is to truly benefit from 4IR, the public and private sectors must rethink skills development and the way people work, says PBT Group’s Andreas Bartsch, Head of Innovation and Services.
“Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA) are starting to take over many repetitive tasks. Cynics argue that this comes at the cost of the very jobs that 4IR intends to create. However, as people can now focus more on the value they can bring to an organisation, this presents the perfect opportunity to provide them with the skills necessary to be successful in a digitally-driven world. It is now all about learning new things and embracing a more adaptable way of working,” says Bartsch.
Bartsch believes that the most important soft skills when it comes to 4IR are not necessarily technology-driven ones. Instead, it is whether a person is willing to learn continuously. As part of this, being creative, having a high level of emotional intelligence, providing good analytical thinking, having a growth mindset, and the ability to make logical decisions help significantly in this regard. Additionally, good interpersonal communication and showing leadership are also important.
“Of course, being tech-minded will help, but this is not about understanding how to code or put a computer together. It is very much a case of how best to use solutions to unlock business value. Things like mobile technologies, the cloud, and data analysis are the enablers of this,” adds Bartsch.
Even so, there is still a requirement for essential IT, data analytics, and AI skills at organisations across industry sectors. Businesses across Africa are now competing globally for these and other scarce skills as 4IR becomes mainstream.
“For local organisations, it is not about trying to entice talent with high salaries. Africa is unlikely to ever compete with first-world countries when it comes to monetary incentives. Instead, it requires a more innovative approach to attracting and retaining talent. Part of this entails embracing hybrid work and offering employees flexible working hours and time away from the office,” says Bartsch.
Organisations should also take a closer look at the skills essential for a 4IR environment. This includes data scientists, data architects, data engineers, and other specialist IT functions. Bartsch adds that “While many tertiary institutions are still lagging when it comes to course work and degrees designed to create these roles, organisations can themselves invest in their employees and upskill them – providing them with the experience necessary in these critical positions.”
It may be easy to give in to the temptation of rushing out to build skills or to attract exciting new talent for the 4IR environment. However, organisations must always keep change management in mind, especially as it pertains to integrating the new into existing processes, systems, and ways of doing things. “In a digital world, HR takes on an even more critical function. This department must integrate into the entire organisation to ensure employee engagement is high, there is an understanding of how people’s needs are met, and to identify any concerns individuals may have when it comes to the work environment,” says Bartsch.
In many respects, this can assist the organisation in future-proofing itself as 4IR evolves and new skills are needed and become available. This however will not be a painless process both from an organisational perspective and an educational one. There are systemic changes that must be considered throughout the entire educational system. How learners are educated and what they are educated on will certainly help address the skills shortage. “With 4IR being such a critical element for business success in the future, decision-makers have no choice but to adopt this new way of doing things and invest in skills development aligned to 4IR as they seek to capitalise on future growth opportunities,” concludes Bartsch.