By 2025, 90% of jobs will require digital skills, according to the World Economic Forum. The tragedy is millions of young people from South Africa, and greater Africa, do not have such skills rendering them unable to ride the crest of the wave.
If South Africa wants to maintain its leadership position in the continent in terms of creating a bright and prosperous future for the majority of citizens, the country should up the ante in terms of upskilling young people. Young people should be equipped with skills to respond to the advent of artificial intelligence (AI).
Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science that aims to create intelligent machines. It has become an essential part of the technology industry. Research associated with artificial intelligence is highly technical and specialised.
The WEF has predicted that by 2020, more than five million jobs will disappear in manufacturing and customer service. Yet, the world can expect AI to create jobs elsewhere; according a recent survey by Capgemini. (www.capgemini.com) It is reported that today four out of five companies have created new job roles through deploying AI-based systems.
And the good news. Government is aware of the impending changes and is taking steps to ensure that young people step up to the plate.
“We’re in the age of the pervasive influence of emerging technologies and artificial intelligence, and need responsive skills, a development research focus and investment to benefit fully,” says Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor.
“I am aware that several universities have invested in research areas that explore boundaries beyond our current understanding of a range of processes and technologies.”
Part of the strategy is to turn TVET colleges into institutions of choice for millions of young people. As at May 2018, the sector had been allocated R5.2 billion, earmarked for more than 458 000 college students.
“In line with responding to new technology demands, we are modernising our colleges to ensure they contribute to employment creation and enterprise development in South Africa,” Pandor says.
The one thread that emerges is support of effective interventions, such as work-based training programs, particularly apprenticeship as a way to guarantee skills and to help our employees cope with the onset of AI. Although education and training have traditionally been the responsibility of the public sector in most countries, companies are increasingly recognising and responding to the needs of educating and training our future workforce, especially for reskilling and lifelong learning.
According to the WEF, apprenticeships boast a strong track record of return on investment for both businesses and the apprentice’s career track, but there are still hurdles in its wide scale adoption. The two main reasons are:
Stigma – apprenticeship and vocational training are still perceived as a second-rate track in comparison to going to university. The general public is unaware that apprenticeships do and can exist more in future-facing industries, increasingly linked to the world of AI including, banking, IT, human resources, healthcare and tourism.
Costs and complexity – regulating apprenticeships can be a heavy process in many countries and therefore a hindrance to employers and possible apprenticeship candidates. Without the right incentives and easier registration processes for employers, innovations in skills training are less likely to happen. Employers know that there is a strong business case in support of apprenticeships and are making strides in several countries to change legislation.
Business leaders increasingly choose to invest in work-based training programs to assist communities and also generate financial resources. In the process the business community is creating both new technology and jobs.
According to Accenture Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer, Ellyn Shook, “apprenticeships can accelerate reskilling in the digital age” offering the future workforce a way to both earn and learn.