Much of 2019 saw government and enterprises alike espouse the value that 4IR means for South Africa, but the lingering question of whether enough is done to secure the country’s future in that regard still needs answering.
According to the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) a significant shortage of skills in the ICT space could threaten any ambitions the country has for 4IR and the changes it will bring.
While South Africa’s ICT sector is highly innovative and entrepreneurial, presenting opportunities for significant job creation and export opportunities in the decade ahead, according to the IITPSA, the current “brain drain” as they term could throw all of those opportunities out of the window, the organisation believes.
Opportunities vs. challenges
That said the opportunities still outweigh the challenges, in the view of Pearl Pasi, IITPSA non-executive director and chairperson of the Western Cape Chapter.
“One of the key benefits is that the 4IR is seeing previously manual work being automated and completed in a fraction of a second. Initially, this did not sit well with employees who feared job losses, but this challenge has been resolved by reskilling and upskilling of most employees to keep pace,” says Pasi.
“Furthermore, new careers that didn’t exist in that last decade have been created, for example in the app development and programming spaces. This has also brought more women into IT fraternity, thereby improving gender inequality,” she adds.
A needs must approach
Looking closer at the technologies and solutions that will be brought forth under 4IR, Pasi notes that organisations will need to grapple with what works best for their environment, and not simply adopt changes for the sake of it.
“New technology advances rapidly and shows up in media on all sides. This can also mean that users, managers at all levels, and even competitors pressure IT staff to implement new technology, simply because it is new and works better,” Pasi points out.
“It could prove challenging to decide which of these new technologies will work to the best interests of advancing the organisation, and which are better to avoid for now. Organisations are different, and the value of each new technology will vary depending on organisational goals,” she highlights.
What about soft skills?
Zeroing in on some of the overlooked elements when it comes to skills development and retention, the IITPSA says soft skills and ethics is something that need to be catered for moving forward, especially within the lens of 4IR.
“We need to look beyond technical skills development – we also need to look at skills that will differentiate people from robots.” says Moira de Roche, IITPSA director and IFIP IP3 chair.
“These skills aren’t easy to teach – they should be embedded in every subject and adopted throughout the culture of every organisation and the country as a whole,” she adds.
With 4IR either on South Africa’s doorstep or currently taking shape within it, depending on who you ask, there is clearly a need to ensure the necessary skills are developed locally, as well as retained in the long run if the country is to keep pace with others and not let the Fourth Industrial Revolution become a missed opportunity.