Posted on March 11, 2020
Job creation, collaboration and reskilling employees for the workplace were key themes that emerged from the Business Day Focus 4.0 Conference held recently at the Kyalami International Convention Centre.
The event was attended by representatives of business and universities, among others, and provided insight into the digital future, opportunities for growth and new careers based on innovative business strategies. It addressed trends as well as the overarching implications for society.
The University of Pretoria (UP) was a partner in this inaugural conference. It believes that the main driver of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and innovation, leading to the emergence of new study fields such as bioengineering, which merges research and expertise in medicine, biology and engineering; and green chemistry, which blends chemistry, biology and environmental science. Technology and data science is the connector.
MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa.
Godfrey Motsa, CEO of MTN SA, told the conference said that in order to have a digital economy, “policies and regulations need to change and transform” while business and government need to work together. Furthermore, big business needs to work better with small business.
There needs to be a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics at schools, colleges and universities. “We cannot be lowering the pass marks at schools and hope to be competing in the future. This is not a sustainable strategy,” he said. He pointed to Korea, which is a success in terms of innovation. “Korea is not lowering its pass [marks].”
Motsa said past industrial revolutions “gave women a raw deal”. However, the 4IR needs to ensure that the workplace has opportunities for women.
Speakers expressed concern about the government’s slow progress in making spectrum for 5G available, which is an obstacle in the country’s path to becoming a digital economy. 5G is mobile broadband that entails downloads of data occurring faster than 4G, while the time it takes for devices to communicate with wireless networks is radically faster.
There was a robust panel discussion on what comes first: digitisation of businesses or businesses understanding their customer value proposition and becoming customer-centric and market-oriented first. Alison Jacobson, Director of the Field Institute, said businesses need to understand their customers and differentiate themselves and then map back to the technology to be deployed.
Marius Oosthuizen, a futurist and lecturer at UP’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, said while business must engage in digital transformation, the challenge is how to “leverage digital transformation to expand the pie to include the 11 million people who are of working age and are unemployed”.
Professor Alex Antonites.
UP’s Professor Alex Antonites, Head of the Department of Business Management, said the University is “shaping the 4IR through an entrepreneurial mindset and innovation. We offer solutions from township revitalisation to hi-tech spinoffs that are market ready”.
In the 4IR, employees will have to keep learning and upskilling as the demands of the digital economy change. “Knowledge and innovation equals competitiveness,” said Professor José Casado Suarez, Professor of Human Sciences and Technology at IE Business School. The 4IR brings with it the gig economy, which means project-based work. People will become freelancers rather than employees and they would need to build their brands, he said.
In the 4IR, employers will look for critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, creativity and collaborative skills, which are key, the conference heard.
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