The Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR): Impact on employment in South Africa


As we move into the digital era, South Africa has been preparing for the fourth Industrial Revolution for the past few years across its public and government sectors. Can South Africa afford to shift into the digital era?

Unemployment is primarily caused by the incompatibility of skills, high-level entry requirements and the inability of the economy to create adequate jobs to keep up with the growing labour force. South African youth continues to be disadvantaged in the labour market, with an unemployment rate higher than the national average. According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), the unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2022 was 63,9% for those aged 15-24 and 42,1% for those aged 25-34.

4IR has created jobs that did not exist before. Think of the staff member that administers your takealot cart (online shopping) once you select “Pay”,  the store packers that package your order, and the delivery driver and service that ensures it gets to your front door in one piece. Online retail continues to grow due to massive investments, resulting in more employment. Ride-hailing (Uber, Bolt, eDriver, etc.) is another industry where jobs have been created as a result of 4IR. It has put the power of 4IR directly in the hands of commuters. Drivers who were previously unemployed or looking for another source of income can now make a good living from being a driver in the ride-hailing industry.

What are the effects of 4iR on human labour in SA?

Retrenchment in the banking sector is one of the first significant examples of 4IR’s implications on unemployment in South Africa. In March 2019,  banks such as Standard Bank announced the closure of 91 branches nationwide. Later in  June 2019, the number increased to 104 branches closing and the loss of 1200 jobs.

Skills that will survive the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Many employed people are improving their skill set for a digital world, and there are also thousands of school leavers without good digital literacy every year. Apart from the lack of digital skills training at schools, we must consider an advanced technical education system to equip the people of South Africa with the skills they need to thrive in the digital age.

Skills that can survive the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be acquired through multi-disciplinary education where human and social sciences understand science and technology and vice versa. The skills that will be required for the digital revolution are cognitive abilities, systems skills; complex problem-solving skills; content skills; process skills; social skills, resource management skills, technical skills and physical skills.

The fact remains that 4IR is taking over. What is not clear is the impact it will have on employment, particularly in South Africa. Will 4IR be an effective solution to solving South Africa’s employment crisis

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