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South African industry needs to find ways of adapting and using the technologies driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) to remain globally competitive, yet maintain and create jobs in a high-unemployment environment, says Omron Industrial Automation, calling for research into how the changes can be harnessed for the betterment of the country.

Education essential to SAs move to Industry 4.0While it is certainly the case that new technology is able to improve the standard of living of society as a whole, technology is itself responsible for less desirable developments, like environmental pollution in emerging, developing countries or rising unemployment among the low-skilled, specifically through the heavy use of automation technology. In this respect, the interplay between society, technology and science can be seen as a cycle leading to a system that exerts constant evolutionary pressure on society and technology.

“Industry 4.0 will influence the conditions of and requirements for employees in many areas. Driven by the application of machine-to-machine communication and an increase in the realisation of autonomous systems, a scenario has arisen in which the demand for qualified production controllers and managers has increased but the demands placed on workers themselves can be reduced. How the increase in productivity is divided among workers depends crucially on social partners,” says Victor Marques, Country Manager of Omron South Africa.

“The impact on the general situation of workers and unskilled labour can be positive. On the other hand, their skilled counterparts will have to come to terms with growing pressure on performance and skills.”

The change to a digital society will take place over the next 20 to 35 years, Marques believes. Digital transformation will require a transformation in the demand for skills. More highly skilled and top-skilled workers with an understanding of complex relationships will be required.

“The knowledge surrounding these relationships will become obsolete more quickly as technology continues to develop, and will have to be kept constantly up to date. The knowledge society will experience a new and greater dependency on up-to-date knowledge, while at the same time processes considered monotonous and irksome will be reduced as machines become capable of making decisions autonomously,” he explains.

“In some cases, such a development will mean that even specialist workers will no longer be required in a production environment, and it is also possible that Industry 4.0 could bring about ‘technological unemployment’ among both specialist personnel and their low-skilled counterparts.”

Marques says that for Industry 4.0 to be fully realised in the future, our primary and secondary education system will have to place an urgent and stronger focus on maths and science and the quality of its teaching. In addition, tertiary institutions and industry need to be closely aligned regarding the curricula of the degrees and diplomas of the future to meet industry demands.

“We as South Africans need to start at the grass roots; our schools helping to foster an interest in the sciences at primary and secondary level will go a long way. The career streams of IT, Computer Science and Engineering need to be the stars during career guidance info sessions at school. As for industry, all the relevant stake holders who aren’t in the know need to familiarise themselves with the concept of Industry 4.0 and all the possible benefits and value add that this technological revolution can bring. Integration and service providers need to ensure that they are always at the ready, prepared with the relevant skills set for implementation and keeping abreast with the latest innovations.”

Image credit: https://industrial.omron.co.za/en/news/new-general-manager-for-omron-sa

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