In Pursuing Radical Economic Transformation, Youth Must Harness Technology

"Young people should ensure that skills related to the digital technology and other components of the fourth industrial revolution are prioritised."
Izabela Habur/ Getty Images


In a world that will be dominated by the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, robotics and cryptocurrencies, for South African black youth to truly advance radical economic transformation, they must embrace the fourth industrial revolution through innovation and creativity. Youth should channel their energy and attention into acquiring skills that will be required in the epoch we are entering.

We should critically question the education system, and ask questions like: What are the skills sets required in the fourth industrial revolution? What type of skills do we have now that will become redundant? Is the curriculum in basic and higher education future-ready? What is the value of knowledge, when Google and YouTube are at our fingertips? Young people, particularly those in the ANC, should honestly reflect on these questions and come with concrete strategy and practical programmes to prepare for this change.

Digital technology is already disruptive — look at Uber. The taxi industry will eventually lose this war, because change is inevitable.

In the next 20 years, technology will disrupt the current socioeconomic structure overwhelmingly. All industries are susceptible to this disruption, including the financial and mining sectors, which have enjoyed comfort for many decades.

Therefore, the youth should take a lead in embracing the workforce of the future, and form a strategic alliance with government, the private sector, development finance institutions (DFI), parastatals and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) to drive a skills revolution that is future-ready. At the core of the president's newly launched Youth Employment Service (YES), young people should ensure that skills related to digital technology and other components of the fourth industrial revolution are prioritised.

The 2017 World Economic Forum (WEF) report on "The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa" suggests that 41 percent of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation. Businesses will migrate to automation to increase economies of scale and become more profitable, which will drive this disruption.

One of the constraints on young black people accessing and leveraging technology is the exorbitant cost of communication in our country.

However, this might present an opportunity to create more jobs in the information and communication technology (ICT), data analysis, cyber security, green technology and engineering fields. The scary part is that the 2017 WEF report also indicates that 39 percent of the core skills required will be wholly different in 2020, due to intense use of technology.

Some of the jobs to be affected are bank tellers, as research indicates that the ATMs of tomorrow will be able to do 90 percent of what humans can. Other jobs that will be hit by automation are financial analysts, accountants, construction and manufacturing workers.

The 54th national conference of the ANC resolved that steps should be taken to implement Operation Phakisa in basic education, to introduce ICT in schools. As young people, we must ensure that such a resolution is implemented with speed, and priority be given to rural and township schools.

The ICT sector is a strategic enabler in the fourth industrial revolution, and investment in its tools is imperative. This investment should deliberately focus on developing black-owned SMMEs, as white-owned companies still dominate in the sector. The ANC further resolved to invest 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development by 2019.

Young people should not just advocate for implementation of such resolutions, but also ensure that black youth remain key beneficiaries. One of the constraints on young black people accessing and leveraging technology is the exorbitant cost of communication in our country. The ANC's national congress further resolved to support the campaign for data costs to fall, as they are stifling economic inclusion. It remains our role as young people to propose practical steps for government to address this.

Creating a conducive environment for innovation and creativity for young people will go a long way towards addressing the inefficiencies in service delivery. We should be proudly producing young people able to develop apps that assist in access to government services. This will only happen if the education system produces young critical thinkers with skills in complex problem solving.

We do not just want knowledgeable youth, but youth able to apply their knowledge and contribute to the socioeconomic growth of society. The fourth industrial revolution is here — ours to embrace, adopt and leverage into new opportunities to advance the interests of South Africa's young people; in particular black youth.

Daniel Madibana is the convener of ANC Youth League regional task team in the Waterberg Region (Limpopo). He writes here in his personal capacity.