SAIMC


SAIMC: From the office of the CEO

March 2022 SAIMC


Johan Maartens.

This year kicked off with South Africans rebelling against foreigners taking their jobs. Truck drivers were among these, saying that driving a truck is not a critical skill and therefore it should be left to South Africans.

The first question that should come up is why companies are preferring to take the risk of employing non-South Africans instead of SA citizens. Sensible people would investigate this and report on their findings, but not in South Africa – we blame the companies for not obeying the laws!

The second question that should come up (and my main reason for this letter) is, what will South African truck drivers do when trucks no longer have steering wheels? If we think this will not happen in our lifetime, we need to think again: South Africa does not build any trucks; vehicles are merely assembled locally, but these are all under the scrutiny of and built to the specifications and standards of the manufacturers. They are not building for South Africa alone, but for countries that have thriving economies and can afford, and demand, autonomous vehicles.

What I am getting at is this: new technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced automation are here to stay, whether we throw tantrums, deliver long and emotional discourses in parliament or dramatise the inequality in the news media or not. Although we have those individuals who are thriving with these new technologies, we are failing to establish a learning culture to adopt all these new technologies across our nation. We have instead managed to create a culture of entitlement without any responsibility. For these people there is a bleak future ahead indeed.

Why can South Africa not prevent automation from being dominant, or at least force it to ‘take South Africa along’ on the journey? It is because this country basically imports everything, from trains to planes to machinery to whatever else – and these manufacturers are building what the world wants and what they can sell at dollar prices.

For the protestors I have very bad news: you have not even started to see your jobs being ripped out from under you. If this is going to happen to doctors, nurses, accountants and others, what do you think is going to happen to you and your job? What is going to happen to jobs you are already earmarking for your children because you have no understanding of where the world is going?

This is a serious wake-up call for South Africans: stop throwing tantrums and start taking responsibility for your own future and the future of your kids. The government has shown that it is not capable of creating new jobs, just circulating the existing ones – and there are only so many to circulate. Many of these will not be around in another ten years’ time due to automation, inefficiencies or just because the world moved on.

South Africa’s focus should be on training and education. It is time for the salaries of the educators to be reviewed so we can attract the leaders in these new technologies to the field of education, bring the laboratories up to speed with the latest technologies, train the educators and whatever else we need to do for these institutions that will enable them to develop real products that are useful in industry. If we don’t, we will be at risk of breaking our own unemployment record and have to contend with all the associated costs.

Yours in automation,

Johan Maartens.


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