The Johannesburg Business School (JBS), a faculty of the University of Johannesburg, has launched its Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Digital Transformation aimed at helping business executives and organisational leaders adapt to an ever-changing digital environment.

According to Professor Lungile Ntsalaze, head of the JBS DPhil in Digital Transformation programme, 4IR technologies are fast becoming a part of our daily lives, and leaders will need to incorporate them into their operations. “The transformation to a digital future is happening right now. Everyone has to be prepared for the disruption that it will cause.”

The DPhil programme is a tool to help make organisations future fit, says Ntsalaze. “The technologies are bursting out of laboratories and making their way into the world on a marketable scale. Our programme prepares students to take advantage of the new opportunities that will arise from this disruption.”

Unlike traditional doctoral programmes, this particular doctoral degree is a balanced mix of theory and practice with a supervisory panel to benefit students’ work from a diverse pool of experts. Mentors are on hand to support candidates throughout the research proposal development stages. Since digital transformation cuts across organisational functions and industries, this programme, through a highly selective admission process, is accessible to anyone with a Master’s Degree from any field of study.

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution considers emerging technologies – such as big data, blockchain, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cloud computing and drone technology, among many others – as tools that can help us overcome the global challenges of inequality, climate change and food security.

Ntsalaze says that turning digital transformation into a subject of study emphasises the important role organisations play in overcoming these global challenges. “Digital transformation has long been government’s swansong to keep South Africa relevant within the global economy. But government may not be able to transform the country as quick as large businesses can. Corporates can adopt emerging technologies swiftly and take them to market. If business rides this wave, South Africa will remain a vital part of the global economy.”

He adds that the business sector will be the catalyst for wholesale digital transformation.

While there is a gap between digitisation and the lack of skills among the population – which has increased rates of unemployability – a key aspect often overlooked is business skills, says Ntsalaze. “In the not-so-distant past, countering unemployment meant creating jobs, upskilling employee’s digital skills or encouraging entrepreneurship. These interventions have not worked. Instead, we need digitally skilled workers with good business acumen.”

He adds that government needs to address this gap as soon as possible to prevent much of the labour force from becoming irrelevant in the near future. “It is no wonder that some multinational tech companies are coming to South Africa with ready-made expat workers. South Africa needs to recognise that we need a workforce that is digitally adept and business savvy.”

A worldwide survey conducted by next-generation online university platform Nexford University found that 85-million jobs will be unfilled by 2030 due to skill shortages. It also stated that 87% of employers worldwide report a lack of talent.

“A globalised business world run with digital tools that demand employees have high levels of skill. Soon enough, we will find that semi-formal – or middle-skilled – positions need to be filled by highly educated individuals,” says Ntsalaze.