An advisory committee that is expected to guide the higher education, science and technology department's response to the coming wave of technological innovation is expected to feed into work undertaken by a presidential commission, which was established in April. 

Former higher education minister Naledi Pandor signed a government gazette that established an advisory committee on the fourth industrial revolution earlier in June. The committee will ensure that students are equipped to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented by the changing world of work.

The fourth industrial revolution refers to the rapid innovation under way in fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence, which is expected to disrupt just about every industry, from manufacturing to telesales.

The presidential commission is expected to identify relevant policies, strategies and action plans that will position SA as a competitive global player during the revolution. 

A study by consultancy firm Accenture estimated that almost six-million jobs in SA are at risk from the fourth industrial revolution over the next seven years.

“Specific universities have already begun to respond to the fourth industrial revolution … [but] there is no systematic information and insights into who is undertaking what,” said the department’s spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi.

The ministerial advisory committee has been tasked with identifying initiatives currently under way at post-school education and training institutions, and identifying the priority areas for intervention to advance digital skills and absorption by industry, he said.

The department has identified some of the key issues that need to be considered for post-school education and training institutions, such as the need to enable life-long learning and continuous upskilling, he said.

The 31-member presidential commission, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has committed to producing a strategy document by March 2020.

It held its first meeting on June 8, and established five “work streams” that will work on different aspects of the strategy. These include an infrastructure and resources work stream chaired by Andile Ngcaba, a research, technology and innovation work stream chaired by Thulani Dlamini, an economic and social impact work stream chaired by Rob Shutter, a human capital and the future of work stream chaired by Beth Arendse, and a work stream on industrialisation and commercialisation headed by Charmaine Houvet.