Imagine a patient in a rural area needing a hip-replacement. At the touch of a button, the local clinic orders the replacement, which is manufactured to exact specifications by a 3-D printer within 30 minutes, and then delivered via a drone to the clinic. While the hip-replacement is being delivered, a self-driving ambulance fetches the patient from home for fitment at the local clinic, which takes place under strict conditions by robotics directed by a qualified surgeon.
It is not ambitious thinking: That time is progressively approaching us through Industry 4.0.
Couched in buzzwords such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, automation, cloud computing and digital manufacturing, this is the world we are being eased into.
The traditional worker - a mere cog in the productive process - is slowly becoming an anachronism. The most important skill in this new productive dimension will be the knowledge worker, who solves problems through interactivity and intuition.
Faced with the inexorable march of technology and its attendant massive social impact, a new phase and focus is needed in preparing skills for the new dimension.
“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage,” said a world-renowned scenario planner.
This necessitates, then, that we unlock and analyse through extensive research and benchmarking the interconnected web of contextual factors that impact on the new skills environment.
Earlier this month, Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, and other BRICS ministers of Education signed a declaration to address 21st century challenges and opportunities regarding Industry 4.0.
Hosted by the Department of Higher Education and Training, the theme for this year’s meeting was “Deepening BRICS Education Partnerships and Exchanges”.
The nations made a commitment to strengthen skills collaboration through, among others, sharing information and benchmarking.
With this in mind, scores of artisans from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will descend on the Gallagher Convention Centre, Gauteng in September to pit their skills against each other in a major competition.
Titled the 2018 BRICS Future Skills Challenge, this is no ordinary competition. It is part of the intense collaboration between the five countries in confronting the challenges of Industry 4.0.
Following on the BRICS Government Summit hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa in Johannesburg in July, this challenge among the BRICS countries will lead to greater learning and knowledge sharing.
The aim is to pull each other up in those fields in line with the declaration signed by Minister Pandor.
It will lead to greater interactivity between the five countries to ensure their future skills are relevant to foreseeable demands.
Part of the future demands will include a new training and skills landscape to ensure none of the five countries lag behind in confronting Industry 4.0.
Welcome to the new skills landscape.
* Manamela is Deputy Minister of Higher Education