By Emediong Boniface
4th Industrial Revolution And The Evolution Of Opportunities – Africa’s current and most educated generation have found it tougher to secure employment opportunities than the generations that preceded them. Annually, more than 50% of graduates churned out from the more than 600 universities on the continent do not get jobs. The unemployment rate on the continent among this age group hovers at around %12 which is marginally better than the close to 13% obtainable globally, the devil though is in the detail, as the continent still has the world’s highest rate of working poverty – people who earn less than $2 a day from their work.
How did we get here? The growth of political systems that adopted economic policies based on extractive systems that were quickly abused by most African countries led to the emergence of leaders limited in vision and the erosion of institutions. The comical result produced a continent that credits the world to the tune of more than $40 billion but still depends on hand-outs in the form of loans, aid and grants etc. to the tune $160 billion annually to keep its economies alive. The risk of potentially failing its most educated, promising and visionary generation is obvious and hence, a need for a change of direction is necessary.
Around the world, solutions to unemployment has mostly been geared to the direction of creating robust education systems capable of adding skills to the inherent talents of students through structured academic and vocational training. It is aimed at producing well rounded individuals that can either become problem solvers (entrepreneurs) or add value to work places (employees). A simple process it may seem but one that has proven quite difficult for various African governments to replicate on the continent and sustain as a labour development policy for its youth. How then will Africa cope with the rapid wave of creative destruction that will accompany the emergence of the 4th Industrial Revolution whose earliest stages we are already experiencing? My dream for Africa is for governments, businesses, civil society and citizens etc. to engage more constructively and generate policies that can turn the emergence of this automated disruption pregnant with dangerous prospects for the future of employment as we understand it into a catalyst for the evolution of opportunities.
The 1st Industrial Revolution introduced steam, water and power. The 2nd pioneered electricity and manufacturing. Computerization debuted during the third while the 4th as we now call it, represents the combination of cyber-physical systems, the internet of things and the internet of systems. The rapid replacement of humans by advanced machines will spearhead an evolution of job roles as we have understood them for years and will pose more challenges to us in Africa who were already battling with record levels of unemployment and underemployment.
Political and economic institutions shape the response to technological innovation, creating the familiar pattern of interaction between existing institutions and critical junctures leading to divergence in institutions and economic outcomes. Consequently, as with most scenarios in our globalized world, the ability of governments to evolve and adapt will determine the success or failure of Africa in embracing the revolution.
In terms of regulation, current systems of labour policies evolved with the 2nd Industrial Revolution, a largely mechanistic approach that is increasingly becoming obsolete in dealing with current challenges. To achieve this, flexible systems of governance will need to be adopted, that will emphasize continuous adaptation to new, rapidly changing environment and reinventing them to fully comprehend the right labour policies and regulations to be made in different sectors of the economy.
For example, talent will definitely become more important than capital as a factor of production. Hence, Governments on the continent may need to reform their entire economic development plans to emphasis human capital development above physical capital which currently holds sway in most economic plans. Safeguards also need to be put in place to de-escalate any possible social tensions as the labour market will most likely be segregated into a low skill/low pay category and high skill/high pay category, threatening the middle class which Africa has spent much of the last 30 years building. They will be caught in the limbo of not being good enough belong to the high skill/high pay category such as entrepreneurs or investors and too good to be low skilled/low pay workers such as technicians or artisans etc. this will be a big blow to decades of building a strong middle class, a prerequisite for truly successful economies post 2nd Industrial Revolution.
I envision an Africa where in light of our peculiar challenges with unemployment, policies will be formulated and implemented that will allow 4th Industrial Revolution technologies to reshape work places, by replacing humans in some tasks and potentially moving humans to more advisory and relational roles where they are actually more needed. This could actually create more jobs than eliminate them. Unlike the 1st Industrial Revolution when slavery was still active, the 2nd when much of Africa was under European imperialism, the third when feeble institutions crumbled and accelerated the collapse of young post-colonial governments through numerous coup d’états and wars, that left us in a perpetual position of playing catch up to the rest of the world. We do not have a valid reason for not preparing ahead for the 4th Industrial Revolution, a process that though may have begun earlier but a word that was first used in 2016 by the World Economic Forum.
Africa should also endeavor to bring back into global discussion such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which is the Worlds law against war and make it binding enough to serve as a deterrent to countries keen to exploit the weakness of others with this evolution of technology through cyber warfare and espionage.
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