I read an article the other day titled “COVID-19 is accelerating 4IR – but SA may not be ready”. It refers to the fact that as one of the most unequal societies in the world, South Africa needs to facilitate a social change or else our economy will leave many more people behind.
But there are some urgent issues that we need to understand. Firstly, 4IR is not something that we as South Africa can postpone until we are ready. It is already happening, and its implementation is accelerating – faster even than coronavirus infections. Secondly, these new technologies have become the de facto way of doing business.
The best thing that we can do now is “build the aeroplane while it is flying”, or in other words, make the social changes but understand the world is not waiting for us. The economy and other factors are forcing industry to move with 4IR’s paradigm of making things faster, better, cheaper.
Unfortunately an attitude of “if the developed world does not help us, it is their fault and we will look elsewhere for help” has engulfed South Africans of all races. South Africa has lost the attitude of “if the world does not help us, we will do it ourselves”. We have developed a mind-set of entitlement rather than responsibility and ownership. There are many reasons why we have developed this attitude, which is making us inefficient and of little use to the rest of the world. We could spend the next twenty years showing the world exactly why they should feel sorry for us, but if we do not get on board, the world will continue developing new technologies and systems and we will fall further behind.
All the money the government has it gets from the taxpayers and they can only pay if they receive an income from working. But they can only work if there are opportunities, and there will only be opportunities if we can produce products and services that are competitively priced and meet the international standards of price and performance.
It all boils down to the following: South Africa must stop feeling sorry for itself and upgrade its education and training programs as a matter of urgency. Changing business ownerships will never be as important as ensuring our workforce is 4IR ready. Let us stop playing the blame game, the numbers game and all other political games and get our youth educated in the right technologies. Let us concentrate on creating special programs to get all our people, including those in rural communities, up to speed with 4IR – that should be more important to us than moving chairs in offices.
On a lighter (but still serious) note: we are excited about the development within ECSA to recognise mechatronics as a separate engineering discipline, and we are also excited about the level of people developing the standards for professional registration. The SAIMC is working with specialists in the field of mechatronics to define the standards for this immensely popular qualification. There is no question at all that this has the potential to changing the face of industry in South Africa.
Yours in automation, Johan Maartens.
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