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Skills development becomes even more critical as the transformation of 4IR continues

By Daniel Orelowitz, MD at Training Force, a company within the Workforce Training and Consulting Cluster, part of Workforce Holdings

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a digital revolution that has massive transformative potential. Technology is rapidly evolving, and if used correctly, it can improve both the spend and quality of business operations. However, without the right skills within the business, technology is either used ineffectively or not used at all, which can be detrimental.

In addition, those without the skills to thrive in a digital world will fall behind in terms of employability. Skills development has thus become even more critical, for businesses to grow, for employees to remain appropriately skilled, and for South Africa to become increasingly competitive on a global stage.

Skills at the heart of managing change

The digitalisation of 4IR is a massive shift for business. The systems and technology not only improve efficiency and enhance productivity, they also remove traditional geographical boundaries and make doing business globally much easier.

They also change the way businesses operate, which makes adapting crucial. Proper change management, including skills development and training, is a big part of this. If employees are not empowered with the skills required to use new technology, the end result is often resentment, lack of adoption, and even higher staff turnover.

The other challenge is that, across the board, jobs that were previously done by people are increasingly being taken over by technology. These are typically low skill, mundane and repetitive tasks that automation makes far more efficient. However, if employees are not upskilled beyond the level of machines, they will no longer be able to add value to a business.

New skills, new opportunities, and new challenges

As technology evolves, the need for skills such as developers, computer operators and other technical skills grows, and even gives rise to new job descriptions that did not exist in the past. However, if people do not even have basic computer skills, they will be left far behind.

Not many companies in South Africa are geared for this shift, and at a basic education level, South Africa faces significant challenges. The digital divide is still a real problem, particularly in the rural areas, which means that, when confronted with technology, people are often apprehensive because they do not know what to do with it. Skills development, again, is absolutely critical. We need to train people from the ground up, empowering them to build, grow and maintain relevant skills.

A problem for every business

All businesses need to invest in training all of their staff and upskilling them in technology, because without these skills in the future, they will not be able to contribute to the workforce. It is also important to continue to provide training, because as technology evolves, the skills required to use it will change. Skills development helps to grow the people within a business, which is more cost effective than continually hiring new skills, and it also provides opportunities for people to better their lives through upskilling.

If organisations in South Africa do not take steps to address these challenges, they will fall further and further behind, with inefficient processes, lack of agility and a growing margin for error. The skills required will obviously differ depending on the organisation, but regular training has become a must have. Not only that, but skills transfer needs to take place for training to be effective, so the right training partner with the correct accreditations is also a must.

Companies that can adapt quicker to the changes brought about by 4IR will be more successful, but in order to adapt they need the right people with the right skills. Looking internally and upskilling people already in a company is not only easier than finding new skills externally, it also creates opportunities and fosters greater loyalty.

Ultimately, all businesses will win if they work to upskill their employees, because everyone will have a more skilled pool of resources to draw on. This in turn will improve South Africa’s competitiveness and economic prospects. However, having the right training partner is essential to ensure that skills development takes place successfully.

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