THE WORKERS’ HELPER
Why the rise of robots is killing SA manufacturing
SA is waking up to the threats and opportunities presented by rapid technological change. But it still has to learn that robots aren’t necessarily the enemy; they can sometimes be our friend
The shift to increased automation that characterises the fourth industrial revolution may well destroy the few low-skilled manufacturing jobs that remain in SA. On the other hand, it could be harnessed to plug the country’s skills gaps and raise its manufacturing productivity. The World Bank estimates that between 1994 and 2014 SA’s manufacturing sector shed roughly 335,000 jobs. Most of these losses occurred after the global financial crisis. This is concerning, since manufacturing uses the labour SA has in abundance — low skilled and semiskilled. Without a significant contribution from manufacturing, SA cannot mop up the vast pool of the unemployed. The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 or advanced manufacturing, are all terms used to describe the current era of rapid technological change in which people are engaging increasingly with machines, such as mobile devices. The upshot is that firms driven by new disruptive technologies, such as ride-hailing platforms Uber an...