By Andile Mabindisa
Youth Month is currently being celebrated under the theme: ‘Promoting sustainable livelihood and resilience of young people for a better tomorrow’. The theme resonates strongly with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) drive to prepare today’s youth for the future of work. We must appreciate the challenging times our youth find themselves in. The future of work has and will continue to evolve as the world experiences technological shifts, thereby necessitating a shift in the way in which we do things.
Concepts such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) with disruptive technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence must be well socialised in the youth discourse. The CSIR is committed to building a coherent and inclusive national system of innovation (NSI), with careful consideration for the inclusion of youth.
Learning factories to equip youth for the 4IR
The inclusion of the youth in the NSI is a recurring theme throughout the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI’s) science, technology and innovation decadal plan. To this end, we have partnered with the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority. This is to set up a one-of-a-kind learning factory which provides an environment that facilitates skills development and innovation to leverage opportunities stemming from the 4IR.
The CSIR houses the master learning factory and work is underway to establish 18 similar facilities at public Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.
Importantly, these learning factory platforms have been designed to appeal to students – young and old - who may not be technologically savvy. Our learning factories programme give effect to our commitment to include youth entrepreneurs as participants in the NSI, and most importantly, as participants in the commercialisation of innovative solutions arising from publicly funded research.
The future of work
The lack of relevant skills in the labour market, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, weakens South Africa’s innovation capacity and its global competitiveness as new disruptive technologies become more complex in this digital world. We have partnered with the DSI, the Department of Higher Education and Training, the National Skills Fund and Sector Education and Training Authorities on 4IR skills development and innovation. While some of our key points of inquiry relate to how TVET systems can be supported with digital transformation to enhance graduates’ competencies and skills, we have also considered the cultural change that would need to be implemented simultaneously.
The future of work will require people with the appropriate innovation orientation, skills and competencies that are responsive to the work environment. The skills and knowledge reorientation relate to the culture of innovation, behaviour and a paradigm shift at an individual and societal level.
Development for and with the youth population
The development of young people is a strong focus for the CSIR, both internally and externally. We have formally established the CSIR Youth Forum, which is an initiative that further emphasises the role youth play in contributing and influencing the strategic future of the CSIR.
The Youth Forum creates a space for networking and collaboration amongst young professionals while also contributing towards building a vibrant and inclusive organisational culture within the CSIR.
We have also introduced the CSIR’s Youth Employment Services Programme, providing previously disadvantaged youth between the ages 18 and 35 an opportunity to gain work experience for one year. This opportunity is intended to allow them to demonstrate their abilities and establish their work ethic. Beneficiaries of this programme have been placed across the organisation in various roles from finance and data analytics to engineering and robotics.
Our scientists and engineers understand all too well the need for academic support in addition to financial support. Thus, our bursars receive extensive support through training, one-on-one meetings and vacation work to ensure their academic performance continuously improves. The development of a substantive pool of appropriately qualified individuals from which not only the organisation can employ to achieve its objectives, but from which key industrial sectors in the country can benefit from employing, is a key driver of our graduate development programme.
In a recent assessment to determine our future readiness, South Africa was assessed, alongside more than 100 countries, by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with AT Kearney, using the World Economic Forum Readiness Framework – Readiness for the Future of Production Report, 2018. According to the country readiness assessment, South Africa is classified as a Nascent Country.
This classification simply means that we are considered to be least ready for the future of production. As Youth Month draws to a close, I want to re- emphasise the commitment by the CSIR to remedy this classification and work with our partners to ensure that our country’s youth are adequately skilled and resilient as we transition to the 4IR.
* Andile Mabindisa is Group Executive for Human Capital and Communication.at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).