The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as a ‘fundamental change to the way we live, work and relate to one another. It’s a digital future defined by the human-machine connection, by the blending of the physical and digital to create platforms, solutions and environments that benefit the future. However, to achieve this golden dream with 4IR there is an urgent need for skills development. As McKinsey points out – the future is people-powered and this means workforce empowerment and enablement. For Mandla Mbonambi, CEO of Africonology, this is critical to bringing about the value proposition inherent within 4IR.
“4IR will influence the way we work by accelerating how the business is conducted and its activities processed,” he continues. “Our normal way of working won’t require us to be physically present in physical infrastructure to deliver the services. Manual work will sit in digital platforms and automation will revolutionise health and safety issues, speed of working and quality of life.”
The oncoming digital storm will also refine how people and businesses communicate. Already this has undergone a fundamental change thanks to the global pandemic, and it will now continue to evolve apace as it adapts to changing business and social frameworks. From virtual communications and family gatherings to the complete removal of physical barriers across diverse locations – communication is shifting boundaries. This means that there has to be an equal change in how companies approach solution development and service delivery. Manufacturing, warehousing, telecommunications, insurance and banking all have to adapt to meet customer and consumer expectations while simultaneously evolving their skillsets and capabilities.
“Skills have to be intelligently curated throughout the business and across all levels of expertise, age and ability,” says Mbonambi. “Companies also need to look at how they can foster the development of these skills in the communities where they operate. If they can create cycles of holistic growth within their environments, then they will reap the benefits in an engaged workforce that grows with the company.”
The soft skills most in demand include critical thinking, complex problem solving, service orientation, emotional intelligence, decision-making, creativity and negotiation. On the more technical side, the skills most sought after by organisations include analytics, DevOps engineering, DevSecOps engineering, robotics, software engineering, test automation and networking. While this is hardly an exhaustive list, it does highlight those skills that are critical to serving both the operational and strategic layers of the organisation.
“These soft skills are essential to building a leadership team that is in sync with the industry and with the challenges facing both the business and employees,” says Mbonambi. “The technical skills are those that will put the business at the forefront of digital change. Both ask that organisations invest in skills development programmes that will equip their people with what they need to thrive in 4IR.”
If organisations want to future-proof themselves, then they need to adapt to change at speed. This means putting skills and people in place that allow for them to pivot and flex as markets decide. The future isn’t going to be set just by the most innovative solution, but by the organisation’s ability to connect with customers, deliver delight, transform employee engagement, and build sustainable growth foundations.
“In truth, skills should be one of the organisation’s most sought-after commodities,” concludes Mbonambi. “It’s skills that will connect people and communities, skills that will build the roadmaps and frameworks of the future, and skills that will squeeze out the value from 4IR.”