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Leverage Internet, 4IR for tomorrow’s job market, says CSIR

Read time 3min 20sec

Top researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – Dr Thulani Dlamini, chief executive officer and Dr Albert Lysko, principal researcher – are urging the South African government to accelerate adoption of the Internet and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) to change the job market of tomorrow in the country.

The two recently wrote a thought leadership article saying the question of having jobs tomorrow is important for SA.

The CSIR is SA’s central and premier scientific research and development organisation. It was established by an Act of Parliament in 1945 and is situated on its own campus in Pretoria.

The researchers’ assertion comes as SA is witnessing a surge in joblessness. According to latest figures from Stats SA, the official unemployment rate increased by a percentage point to 30.1% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

Dlamini and Lysko point out that in the current state, specific technologies, exact effects and even the very definition of the 4IR result in discussions.

“As has been observed with innovations in the past, many of these technologies will first arrive as luxuries and soon become very common and affordable, bringing better living and change of requirements for many jobs, especially professional and semi-professional ones,” they say.

“Often overlooked common and interlinked elements in these equations of change are globalisation and the Internet; the global network connectivity enabling either a part of or the full chain for most of the abovementioned technological advances; and how they affect the economy.”

According to Dlamini and Lysko, like with building a real road, building the Internet gives back to the host country.

The ground telecommunications, whether using fibre or cellular, require building and maintaining physical infrastructure and, so far, this requires a substantial local job force, they note.

“For example, as the cellular industry continues to move from 4G to 5G and then 6G, and grow the speeds offered 10-fold with each generation, the physics and economics will undoubtedly dictate the need for smaller cells.

“A larger network of cells means many more small base stations will need to be deployed and maintained, providing local jobs. The situation with services provided over the Internet looks different.”

They say SA has a good track record in innovation. For example, they point out that the CSIR has developed autonomous 3D navigation, enabling a robot system to navigate autonomously in between indoor and outdoor environments without assistance from GPS.

The organisation also launched television white spaces technology, which enables better connectivity for rural villages.

However, they say more needs to be done to expand the range and uptake of locally produced technologies.

The researchers say in the economy interconnected via the Internet, research, development and innovation require skills. “The development of relevant skills is a long-term investment, which generally requires decades of continuous and devoted change.

“For instance, improving school education alone requires a transitional decade for the change to propagate and to start bearing the fruits. The overall change will need at least several decades. This includes increasing the scale of university education and the number of quality graduates to the level of leading countries that will require a substantial financial investment. This also includes increasing the proportion of the knowledge-based economy.”

They believe that the growth and preservation of the local Internet-linked markets and entrepreneurship could perhaps be supported via local and global import/export regulations.

However, they note, online services have a non-physical nature. “Thus, the enforcement of those regulations could only be possible by regulating Internet traffic at national borders, as we do with the physical borders.”

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