5 years ago, the BRICS Business Skills Development working Group identified a project called the BRICS Atlas of Emerging Jobs, which was the start of my journey into the future of work and the future jobs. From there it was an easy jump to the impact of 4IR on everything!

Whilst I am passionate about Manufacturing, and its ability to change the dynamics of South Africa, I have a different focus to the most professionals in manufacturing and you will see this reflected in my presentation today.

I am pretty certain that everyone here today understand what the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is, however, I always start here because there isn’t a clear definition of 4IR, and if we all have a slightly different definition of what this is, how will we determine solutions to the challenges we will face as manufacturers and South Africans.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industry_4.0#/media/File:Industry_4.0.png Industrial revolutions and future view, Christoph Roser, http://www.allaboutlean.com…  

There is a lot of talk about how the 4th industrial revolution will facilitate large scale job losses. What’s important to remember is that previous industrial revolutions did exactly the same! Electrification of the railways meant coal shovellors were out of a job, whilst those that could reskill or reinvent themselves still had jobs. At the same time industrial revolutions have the potential to harness increased efficiencies, decreased cost of production and increased skill levels and most importantly in a South African environment reduce inequalities.  

In a manufacturing context, Festo talk about factories of the future having 2 employees, a person and a dog, with the dog to make sure the person stays awake. The diagram below shows one view of how factories of the future could be structured.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is the intersection of manufacturing, automation and IT creating a new pathway to new products and new business processes. Whilst we are focusing on 4IR in manufacturing today this industrial revolution will impact on every industry, from agriculture to financial services. A large part of this impact will be driven by access to information. To put this thought into context, more people will have mobile phones than have electricity or running water in their homes or villages by 2020.  There a number of thoughts about African (including South African) readiness to participate in this industrial revolution. Adrian Kitimbo, visiting researcher at the Centre for Dynamic Markets said we are probably not ready for 4IR due to poor technology infrastructure, access to data and information, low education levels and a general lack of maths and science skills. A recent World Bank study concluded that over 60% of children in low- and middle-income countries will exit the schooling system without primary school proficiency in math and reading abilities. According to Brookings Centre for Universal Education this is estimated at 61 million African children.

There are a number of mega trends affecting everything work and job related, and we need to understand these so we can react in a proactive manner. We can expect to see the following trends to manifest

Increasing Decreasing or disappearing
Cyber physical manufacturing Large industrial employment
Unmanned transport Manual labour in everything
Connectivity+hybrid reality+brain- machine communication Centralised structures
Localized production of everything Middle management
Greening of everything Boundaries between work, life and play
Personalised services All non green industries
Blending of activities – work, play, living and creativity  

The following diagram showcases some of the changing technologies driving 4IR.

There are many examples of each of the technologies being used in real life. The biggest impact of these technologies is their ability to reduce inequality, but they will also spawn new business models and products and make “old” things and ways obsolete in businesses that never thought they were at risk.

Thomas Frey talks about 100,000 new micro industries to be created in next 20 years using these new emerging technologies and this is one thing South Africa could leverage to drive growth of entrepreneurship and manufacturing.

I am not going to say South Africa should adopt any one of the technologies as they are all important in various ways for South Africa and can all be used to create substantial benefit for South Africa.  The items I am proposing as needed for South Africa will enable these benefits to be realized

Technology bank

South Africa has generated many creative ideas and solutions, and a technology bank would allow that IP to be protected in SA and additionally could facilitate local production of these solutions or generate revenue with licencing sales. This would include using new agreements such as the recently ratified African Free Trade Agreement to deliver market sizes large enough to make local production worthwhile

Digital infrastructure

None of the 4IR technology will be effective without digital infrastructure and this doesn’t work without power. We can leverage new energy technologies to ensure the consistent power supply

Provision of digital infrastructure and power together will allow communities to develop solutions

Cyber security

A few years ago, at Manufacturing indaba someone quoted a statistic of over 80,000 connected devices in manufacturing with only 5,000 of these devices connected securely. South Africa needs a comprehensive plan for cybersecurity that encompasses skills development, regulations and cybercrime units

Ethics and governance

Like all new technologies 4IR technology can be used for both good and bad. I often use the example of “I am pretty sure the inventors of 3D printing didn’t imagine it would be used to print guns”. Without polices governing the use of new technologies South Africa is at risk of misuse of technology.


Skills across of all levels, i.e. from basic through to higher education must receive much higher priority so that what we are teaching people remains relevant and up to date

Without these building blocks 4IR technologies will remain out of the reach of many South Africans and we could become irrelevant in our rapidly changing world.

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