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If Africa wants to own Industry 4.0 it must hone some serious skills

NEWS24 / 30 JULY 2018 - 21.28 / BABU SENA PAUL

We are now at the doorstep of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also commonly known as Industry 4.0.

Africa was not one of the drivers of the first three industrial revolutions – for different reasons – and was instead a consumer. Hence, we could not reap the vast socioeconomic benefits of the past industrial revolutions.

There is a need for upskilling and reskilling of Africa’s current workforce at a fast pace. Picture: iStock

In order to promote socioeconomic upliftment and address the issue of inequality in Africa, we need to be an active participant and one of the main drivers of the fourth industrial revolution. This will also mean contributing and adapting to the fast-changing technologies that will eventually affect our society and economy.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution does not only concern Industry, but will also positively influence every citizen in his or her daily life, as emerging technologies are likely to penetrate every aspect of life such as education, health care and security. This is because the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not driven by a single technology but a confluence of multiple technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Blockchain, 3D printing and Augmented Reality.

The question now arises: What has happened in the past couple of decades leading up to the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Studies show that the world’s data is growing at a rate of 40% a year.


Anything in digital format is considered as data, be it pictures, documents, songs or movies. There is a need to process these huge amounts of data to extract meaningful information, which can assist in improving our experiences and life. However, it is very challenging to process this huge amount of data on our personal desktop and laptop computers. The advent of cloud computing and data lakes over the past decade has made it possible for faster and more economical processing of big data.

The second question that comes to mind is: “Does Africa have the skill sets to embrace and be a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?”

To answer this question we need to take a brief look into the past. None of the previous three industrial revolutions had a well-prepared and skilled work force before each industrial revolution.

The workforce was developed over a period of time and picked up the necessary skills as the revolution progressed. For example, we did not have software developers or network engineers before the advent of the computer. More people began developing and honing these skills as computers started to penetrate various sectors.


As it has been envisaged that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have an impact on every sector, it is likely to affect the energy sector in a big way. There is likely to be a paradigm shift in the way we generate and consume energy.

Presently the flow of energy is unidirectional from the power stations to the consumers. Power generation in Africa is largely based on hydro-electric and fossil fuel. These power stations have a negative impact on the environment due to the effects of carbon emission and ecological disruptions. In future, more consumers will be producing their own electricity using renewable sources like wind and solar. After fulfilling their own needs, these consumers would like to sell their energy surplus by feeding it back to the grid.

To achieve this, there is a need for an upgrade of the grid to accommodate the consumers that wish to feed power back into the grid. The grid of the future is therefore likely to have a more distributed nature. The management of such a system will see the use of technologies like Internet of Things and Blockchain.

Renewables and distributed generation will also assist in providing electricity to communities located at remote locations through setting up of microgrids.

To become one of the front-runners of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Africa needs to focus on skills development aligned to Industry 4.0. There is a need for upskilling and reskilling of the current workforce at a fast pace. A holistic review of the current curricula at different levels will assist in creating a workforce more suited to carry out jobs of the future. Skills development will also promote development of homegrown technologies, which will lead to proliferation of entrepreneurship and further growth of the economy.

Ultimately, skills development will play an invaluable role in making Africa a major player of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

» Professor Babu Sena Paul is the director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems, University of Johannesburg. He writes in his personal capacity.



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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