We are currently in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and no aspect of life has been affected by the impact of these revolutions more than the job market.

We can view each of these revolutions as infliction points, points where the entire fabric of the job market was rocked to the core. At the heart of this was skills development and the need to create new jobs as old jobs simply vanished off into the sunset.

Come what may, we will need new skills that will be appropriate for a new job market. Experts have said that 60% of the jobs that we are familiar with today simply will not exist in the future. Are we prepared for this?

Where the need is most dire

If we do not develop new skills, unemployment will, unfortunately, become commonplace. I recently read an article on the mail&guardian.com which discussed this very subject.

The article points out that in the recently published Jobs Summit’s Framework Agreement’s 84 pages and 12 798 words, the fourth industrial revolution is mentioned just three times.

The first time it occurs is in reference to the strategy and principles overview. It then appears twice more when noting the importance of producing the right skills to take advantage of fast-changing technologies associated with the term. These include artificial intelligence, nano- and biotechnology, 3D printing and quantum computing.

The agreement was signed at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s jobs summit in Midrand in Mid October.

The article adds that, overall, the summit made little mention of the need to equip students and workers with the skills required to be competitive in South Africa’s job market.

Not addressing disruption

Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) President Sipho Pityana raised this issue during the summit, saying the government is not addressing the disruption caused by these technologies in a systematic and meaningful way.

“With the advent of electric cars, what’s the future of petrol attendants? Like the Luddites of 19th-century Europe, the cab drivers of today who see enemies in the Uber drivers are in fact assailing their future allies in the coming struggle against driverless cars,” he said at the summit.

He added that part of the preparation entails reforming of our education system to deliver suitably skilled workers in the numbers required. “We are currently battling technology illiteracy, a shortcoming which makes many of our people unemployable in the rapidly growing gig economy.”

The Mail & Guardian points out that this should be of concern to South Africa. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa analysis, which was published this year, found that in South Africa 39% of core skills required across all occupations in 2015 will be different by 2020.

According to the research, large numbers of employers are citing inadequately skilled workforces as a major constraint to business expansion. “Sub-Saharan Africa is far removed from making optimal use of its human capital potential and under-prepared for the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by the fourth industrial revolution,” according to the report.

The article adds that although the fourth industrial revolution may replace current jobs, it could also create new ones. Professions needing complex problem-solving and critical thinking such as artificial intelligence engineering and data science are in demand.

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, the deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services, ambitiously proposes to train one million people to master these skills by 2030.

Not a real threat

The article points out that the Director of the Centre for Economic Development and Transformation, Duma Gqubule, says the idea of technology replacing workers has been going around since the third industrial revolution and it’s not a real threat. “It’s not a done deal that the fourth industrial revolution is going to replace jobs.

“When you get new technological advancements, it creates more productivity because you’re working more. It’s a cycle of ever-increasing productivity in the economy, and productivity means more income for you, which means more growth for the economy,” Gqubule told the Mail & Guardian.

According to the Department of Higher Education and Training; in 2016, 59 125 people graduated with degrees in science, engineering, and technology.

This sector has been the most popular and fastest growing since 2013.

The Mail & Guardian said that Business and management is the second-most popular field of study, with 56 364 students graduating in the same year. This is followed by humanities (45 480) and education (42 107). Gqubule says, contrary to popular sentiment, most graduates find work. “The unemployment rate for graduates is about 6%. The country average is about 27%. So having a degree reduces the likelihood of you being unemployed.”

He says the economy will only be able to accommodate the employment-focused projects proposed in the agreement if the economy grows.

A popular narrative

The article points out that it’s a popular narrative today that people with low-paying jobs are becoming increasingly redundant. Technologies such as advanced machinery and artificial intelligence are automating tasks that previously required more costly human labor.

Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, describes this susceptible group as the “useless class”. In an article published by The Guardian in 2017, he wrote: “The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms. Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge — the useless class. People who are not just unemployed but unemployable.”

The Mail & Guardian article points out that the issue, therefore, isn’t that South Africa is not producing the necessary skills. It’s not producing enough of those skills. The country is struggling to accommodate the 27% unemployed — the class that is at risk of becoming “useless” in a modern economy.

Workers urged to deepen skills

According to an article on straitstimes.com, workers are being urged to deepen skills and reap benefits of the fast-changing world.

The article points out that asking the right questions, solving complex problems and navigating changes are the kind of skills that will prepare workers for the future, said labor chief Ng Chee Meng yesterday.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) can help people build such skills through learning programmes and other initiatives, he said in a speech at the NTUC U Future Leaders Summit.

Mr. Ng, who is NTUC’s secretary-general, also called on workers to be proactive in their career development to reap the benefits of a fast-changing world in a media briefing.

“It is, therefore, important that all of us are aware of the trends, challenges, and opportunities that Industry 4.0 will bring and gear up,” he added, referring to automation and how it is changing various sectors.

“If we can deepen the skills of our workers, if employers can embrace technologies, our productivity levels… can go up. As companies become more profitable… Singapore will find the way forward to make a good robust economy so that Singaporeans can continue to enjoy economic growth.”

Deep technical skills will flourish

Mr. Ng, who addressed about 1 500 participants at the event at Star Theatre in Buona Vista, said workers will “require a combination of adaptive skills, technological skills, and deep technical skills” to stay relevant to the future workforce.

The Straits Times article pointed out that he also noted that the U Future Leaders Exchange, a series of micro-learning sessions NTUC launched last year to help busy white-collar workers, has helped about 4,000 professionals, managers, and executives. They get unlimited access to bite-sized workshops, networking events and learning journeys to innovation labs at Mastercard, Unileve, and Microsoft, among others.

Mr. Ng said the organisation has programmes to help workers deepen professional skills.

For example, it works with the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) to certify HR practitioners. More than 700 practitioners have been awarded the IHRP certification, including the 228 workers who received theirs during yesterday’s summit.

A wide ranging study

The article points out that the NTUC announced a wide-ranging study last month to find out how workers can be matched to future jobs. “The data we will obtain, study and analyse will pave the way for specific training programmes in various sectors, partnerships with employers,” Mr. Ng said.

More than 26 000 workers have benefited from the U Future Leaders Programme, which is in its sixth year, noted Mr. Ng. “We intend to reach out to more of our workers, regardless of color.”

Innovation is key

According to an article on studyinternational.com, innovation will be a key differentiator when it comes to future skills.

The article points out that whichever way you turn, the world is abuzz with unique ideas and invigorating concepts. Fresh business ventures, products and services are transforming the world as we know it, with start-up culture and ingenuity breathing life into a connected, global society.

Millennials and Gen Z are engaged and inspired, united in their long-term passion for entrepreneurship and quest for innovation. As graduates, our children will enter a world of fast-paced change and modernization; a space in which disruptive technologies rewrite the rules of business, economics, politics and law.

The article adds that these developments are set to improve our progressive and global community, but if they are to stay ahead of the curve, students must prepare for ever-evolving industry demands by perfecting and embracing the art of innovation.

The pinnacle of contemporary success

From enterprising start-ups to inventive engineers and tech-savvy corporate moguls, innovation represents the pinnacle of contemporary success.

“As we look to the future, career paths are very unpredictable,” Curt Lewellyn, Director of the Ciongoli Center for Innovation at Fessenden School told Study International told studyinternational.com, “the fact is, many jobs that don’t even exist now will be career paths that our students need to prepare themselves for. The key is in being a flexible learner; in being able to think in a way that computers simply can’t.”

Unveiled in 2016, the center encompasses 2,400 square feet dedicated to student innovation, described as the physical and ideological heart of Fessenden’s Massachusetts campus. Stocked with 3D printers, laser cutters, a collaboration classroom and a vast array of hi-tech tools, students here have all they need to set innovation alight.

“The primary goal of the center is instilling in our students a sense of ownership and creativity,” Lewellyn explains, “many people view centers like this as ‘technology hubs’, and while we do emphasize tools and applications, and we teach things like programming and robotics, we stress that this is really about building creative muscle over technical skill. And so, a lot of what we’re trying to do is see where the realm of ideas meets technical expertise.”

Prestigious learning

Students here gain access to an innovation network that includes some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions.

The studyinternational.com article points out that NuVu is one such example. Located in Cambridge, NuVu is described by Lewellyn as an “innovation school in and of themselves”. Established by graduates of MIT – a university consistently ranked the world’s most elite – this invaluable partnership gives students a taste of real-world innovation success.

But the center also comprises three expansive makerspaces and a state-of-the-art machine room. Placed next to Fessenden’s well-stocked library, the center is an impressive addition to the school’s 21st century learning resources, presenting an empowering space in which both faculty and students can advance their knowledge and expertise.

“Here at Fessenden, we talk a lot about the ‘Six Cs’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, character, and cross-cultural competency,” says Lewellyn, “these principles are at the core of all curricula we’ve designed. Because of this, we are in every way ahead of the curve.”

Through classroom activities, cross-divisional collaboration, and “Innovation Station” Extended Day Program offerings, Fessenden’s Lower School boys (from Pre-K to Grade 4) are introduced to—and develop—these critical skills.

Learning opportunities truly know no bounds in this versatile and imaginative environment.