Enterprises UP research project: The 4IR and its impact on future skills and training needs

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A team of experts from Enterprises University of Pretoria (Enterprises UP) recently completed a study, supporting the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing (FP&M) Sector Education and Training Authority’s (SETA)’s ongoing research into the impact of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).  The focus of this specific study was to identify for the SETA, key emerging technology trends impacting their 13 sub-sectors and new future skills as prompted by these emerging technologies.  It was important for the SETA to gain these insights and perspectives, ultimately assisting them to develop future training programmes.    

About the research

In conducting the study, Enterprises UP’s team utilised a Cloud-based search technology platform to conduct a world-wide search of the existence of already prevalent emerging technologies within each of the 13 sub-sectors.  A great benefit of this approach is that it provides examples of what trends and emerging technologies already exist and as such leaves little room for speculation as it is entirely evidence-based.  It was also important for the team to use more than 300 pieces of evidence to provide a focused view per sub-sector, on how each recognised emerging technology was already impacting the sub-sector.

The second part of the study focussed on translating the potential impact of these emerging technologies into future skill requirements.  During this phase of the project, the team utilised skills and competency experts to develop various narratives for the FP&M SETA with a focus on what new future skills will be required.  These outcomes were further validated by various expert panels to enhance the credibility in the process.  This final outcome, namely the consensus view of a body of practitioners as to what the future skills will entail, per sub-sector, was presented to the SETA’s Board and EXCO.

Key Observations

It is not only the emerging technologies themselves that will cause disruption and change but also the larger trends with the sub-sectors, such as sustainability, environmental, ethical, labour, smart-wear and consumer behavioural issues.  These macro trends not only impact one another but individually and collectively also serve as key drivers of emerging technologies. 

Based on the body of evidence, a wide range of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D and 4D printing, virtual and augmented reality, drones, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data are already impacting or will in the near future impact every sub-sector of the SETA. 

The emerging technologies will also influence current applications in the workplace. Within these current applications there will be shifts in skills categories and skills application.  For example, emerging technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence will require the use of new skills within the existing applications of Supply Chain Management and Customer Responsiveness.  And it is these new skills within existing applications that the SETA wanted to be informed about. 

The report demonstrates that organisations need to determine and prepare for the disruptions caused by the 4IR, how new emerging technologies will demand future skills, what these skills could be and how to develop solutions in dealing with these.