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Make apprenticeships sexy again

- Wits University

South Africa 4IR-readiness and the case for tech-savvy artisans.

The future of work for South Africa and Africa in the Fourth Industrial Revolution raises pressing questions about the skills gap that is already noticeable in many sectors and industries: Are we educating and training enough artisans, crafts and technical people to address our 4IRSA-needs, or are we just only churning out degree-qualifying people that South African cannot afford?

This was a central theme during the breakaway session of the 4IRSA Partnership’s workshop with representatives from the Mining and Manufacturing sector – two sectors that are being heavily transformed in the digital age.

4IRSA (Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa) is an alliance between the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and Telkom and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS). It has held four workshops to date that aim to gather broad insight from South Africans with the purpose to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa.

The mining and manufacturing sectors are entering the 4IR-phase of heavy disruption over the next few years that will dramatically change the nature of how these industries work, do business and the skills they required to be competitive.

Andrew Lane, Deloitte Africa’s Energy & Resources Leader (left) facilitating the breakaway session at the 4IRSA Mining & Manufacturing Workshop.

With mobility, automation, digitisation, artificial intelligence, big data and many other new technologies both creating and decreasing opportunities in the mining and manufacturing sector, we “urgently need to rethink our skills training and education,” said Andrew Lane, Deloitte Africa’s Energy & Resources Leader, who facilitated the breakaway session.

Kavitha Prag, Associate Director, Capital Projects, Deloitte SA, echoing the contributions from those in the mining and manufacturing sectors, said that vocational skills will be highly sought-after skills in future: “We need to make artisan careers sexy again, and create tech-savvy artisans, traders, craftspeople that can add value to our industries”.

To do this, focus now has to move to South Africa’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges that need to be properly skilled with quality educators who can provide excellent training. Companies and industries also need to be roped in again to offer apprenticeships to young women and men who can qualify as artisans (welders, toolmakers, plumbers, electricians, among others) or technicians in various sectors.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Readiness for the Future of Production Report 2018 (PDF) while “the ability to innovate is one of South Africa’s greatest strengths (as the country it has a strong innovation culture and entrepreneurial activity is supported by a sophisticated financial sector), human capital remains the most pressing challenge in preparing for the future of production”.

Coherent, collective response

Framing the workshop group discussions, Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair in Digital Business in the Wits Business School and Secretary of the #4IRSA Partnership, introduced the three themes that all sector workshops, including the Mining & Manufacturing workshop, will discuss:

“#4IRSA wants to help frame the challenges facing South Africa in the Digital Age and find a coherent, collective response for the country,” he said.

About the workshops

The first workshop held in November 2018 that focused on the Public Sector, with representatives from various government departments and research entities committing to share processes more widely and seek better coherence between the various parties’ 4IR initiatives.

The next sector workshops will focus on:

  • Heavy Industry, Mining and Infrastructure
  • Agriculture, Foodstuffs and Health Products
  • Financial and Business Services
  • Manufacturing

For the latest news on Wits University’s involvement in the #4IRSA Partnership, visit for news from the #4IRSA alliance, visit

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About the #4IRSA Partnership

The Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA) is an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).

Its purpose is to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

The 4IRSA Partnership recognises that there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa: in government, industry, academia and society at large.

However, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent, and indeed there is a high level of unawareness of each other between these processes. The 4IRSA Partnership aims to provide a platform for all these processes and stimulate shared conversation, so that they become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them, moving from fragmented divergence towards complementarity.

Following a host of workshops early in 2019, the next steps will be:

A Summit of Principles (SOP) is scheduled for later this year. This will include representatives of all of the above industries, related government departments, labour and other stakeholders. The objectives of the Summit of Principles are: to build alignment, participation and momentum for the 4IRSA process; share sector workshop outputs; agree on key areas for further research and deliberation; and agree on a framework for further action and the roadmap towards the Summit of Declarations.

The Summit of Declarations is anticipated to be held in the 4th quarter of 2019. The objective of the Summit of Declarations are: to consolidate all workstream reports into a comprehensive national response; for all stakeholders of each sector represented to table and commit to a short, medium and long term response by that sector to the 4th IR, in the form of a declaration for that sector; to agree monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; to agree further areas of dialogue and research.