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Reskill and work together to survive digital economy

Author: Myolisi Gophe

Investment in human capital in the digital economy was the main subject when stakeholders from the community, business, government and academia converged at UWC for the second Chancellor’s Roundtable.

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(Published - 15 November 2019)

While technology makes life easier for most, it has also created widespread anxiety because of inevitable job losses. The time has come for stakeholders to rethink strategies and invest in human capital to harness the full potential of these technologies.

This week stakeholders from the community, business, government and academia met at UWC for the second Chancellor’s Roundtable discussion. It was themed, Investment in Human Capital for sustainability and competitiveness in the digital economy (4IR): A Silo or Ensemble approach?

Organised by the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences in partnership with the CoLab for eInclusion and Social Innovation, the event gave stakeholders a platform to deliberate on shared interests and concerns with a particular focus on the social economic development agenda of South Africa, according to Professor Vivienne Lawack, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic.

“We are in an era of rapidly changing technology, and one of the cross-cutting things in the Institutional Operating Plan 2016-2020 is, what will be the role of a university in the digital age? I would argue that it is not only about embracing technology. When we talk about 4IR, we are also talking about the changing world of work. But the question is: how do we use the 4IR for social good?”

In his address, UWC Chancellor, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, cited the closure of bank branches and the 20% drop of newspaper circulation in the past two years as some of the impacts of transformative technologies. “These developments are not leading only to joblessness, but demand reskilling for those who remain and a new kind of education for those who aspire for careers in those affected sectors,” said the Chancellor.

He said one of his deepest concerns in South Africa in recent years is the failure to create equal opportunities for all. “Although opportunities are opening up, it tends to be the children of well-resourced societies, whether they are black or white, who can take advantage of them. Children in poor communities lose out, thus perpetuating the creating of intergenerational wealth among the privileged while, by large, the poor remain poor.”

Archbishop Makgoba said investing in human capital should be a priority “as we work to harness the potential of these technologies.” He added that UWC, as an engaged university, can play a role in collaborating with other institutions to achieve this.

Recent research endorses his sentiments. A study was conducted by Dr Leona Craffert and Dr Raven Naidoo on behalf of the Western Cape Government. It dealt with the impact of technology on several growth sectors and the related digital skills requirements. They found that there has been an increase in the delivery of graduates with ICT skills, but not enough to address the demand. “There is a significant need for reskilling and upskilling, and there is a need for digital skills in all sectors,” explained Dr Craffert, Director of UWC’s CoLab for eInclusion and Social Innovation.

 

Dr Naidoo, from Radian Consulting, added that while some businesses believe that in-house training through internships is one of the valuable interventions, universities are key to addressing scarce skills through short courses.

Panelists Jo-Ann Johnston, Deputy Director-General in the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism; Glenn Gillis, Managing Director of Sea Monster; Luvuyo Rani, Founder and Managing Director of Silulo Ulutho Technologies; Ryan Ravens, Chief Executive Officer of Accelerate Cape Town (Business Association); and Professor Mmaki Jantjies of the Department of Information Systems (UWC), rounded off the event and agreed that change is needed.

Johnston named a few organisations that went bankrupt in the past “because they failed to see the change, were too conservative and failed to be responsive to the needs of the customers”.

Gillis echoed his sentiments and called for a leadership soft-skills course for every student. “We should stop teaching the content because the content is out there. What we need is critical thinking and problem-solving, and it doesn't matter which sector,” said Gillis.​​​

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