The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought with it a wealth of new, advanced technologies which have allowed us to build on our long history of innovation and technological leadership.

By Shiven Sukraj, country MD of ABB South Africa

By continuing to evolve, and to embrace these new technologies, we continue to lead the way with cutting-edge robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and digitalisation-led automation.

One of the big challenges that every business is facing in this era is how to ensure that employees – who are an organisation’s most valuable assets – are not left behind. Data published by Statistics South Africa in February 2020 shows that the country’s unemployment rate remained at 29,1% during the fourth quarter of 2019 with the youth being the most affected.

Approximately 8,2-million (40,1%) of South Africa’s 20,4-million young people aged 15 to 34 are unemployed, uneducated and are not a part of any training programmes.

This serves as an understandable fear for the employed and unemployed workforce that new, digital technologies are displacing people in the workplace. To allay these fears, it is necessary to unpack what is actually required in the workplace.

In power generation, it is critical to recognise that because of the advanced automation solutions being deployed at the power stations, there is a need for an even more highly-skilled generation of engineers, operators, technologists, artisans and even managers, without whom, these technologies would be white elephants.

Our technologies therefore catalyse the need for a more digital enabled and trained workforce on these sites. So, people are still desperately needed and as leaders, we need to focus on upskilling these valuable assets and enabling our workforce to handle more complex and unstructured tasks.

The first step on this journey is to ensure that we demystify technology for them. One way of doing this is by looking at global best practises-based training that integrates employees in the evolution of the business. We can also ensure that with every digitally enabled solution we deploy actively engages the workforce to use, maintain and integrate it with the rest of the business.

Another way of demystifying the technology is by implementing innovative means of drawing the workforce into using new technologies, such as business specific social media apps, facilitating online basic coding courses, demonstrating new technologies to all staff in the workplace, encouraging digital innovation and recognising advancements/achievements in a digital workplace.

By reskilling or upskilling each team member, we can bridge the gaps between the technologies that needs to operate with precision, and those that help our teams achieve critical levels of performance.

We must also create the opportunities for the youth by driving graduate programmes and employment training platforms that encourage the uptake of new and relevant skills to collectively decrease the levels of unemployment. The upside of this diversification and inclusion strategy (as shown by research globally) is that business performance increases!