At last South Africans have something to celebrate as we head into the end-of-year holiday season. Our troubles are far from over of course, but the recent changes in government leadership have given us cause to feel optimistic about the future. It’s invigorating to read positive headlines again, particularly those that indicate a shift in sentiment by foreign investors. Along with skills development, this is something the country desperately needs if we hope to remain globally competitive in a marketplace shaped by the new digital technologies.
All efforts in this regard are unlikely to be successful though unless there are clear policy guidelines in place, supported by both government and business. I doubt that this could ever have happened in the environment of greed and distrust that festered over the last few years. However, the new approach of zero tolerance to corruption and incompetence, in both government and business, bodes well for an environment of cooperation where leaders from both sides feel happy to participate. What we need are short, medium and long-term strategies to guide South Africa out of its economic malaise and, whether we like it or not, Industry 4.0 will have an influence because it has become too powerful to ignore.
In the short term, the strategy needs to change the ethos of labour from one of suspicion to one of involvement. In the medium term, it must address the problem of reskilling all those workers displaced by the technologies of Industry 4.0. (Simplistically, the workers who were displaced by robots must be taught how to build robots.) During this phase we also need a clear policy on education to ensure that our youth are properly qualified for the digital era. For the long term, we need a sharp image of the type of society we want to create in the future. For instance, do we still just want to be blasting minerals from the ground in twenty years’ time, or do we aspire to perfect the art of beneficiation by then.
The policies we make today will determine our future. What I am ready to celebrate is that it is now far more likely that these policies will be made by men and women of vision, rather than self-serving vanity. Guest columnist Oratile Sematle has more to say on the subject of policy and technology in the article ‘Emerging technologies pose a pressing governance challenge’.
In closure for 2018, a note of thanks to all our advertisers and readers from the team at SA Instrumentation and Control – we wish you a safe and happy year-end break. Come back refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of 2019.
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