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Skills 2.0: the face of the South African artisan in the digital revolution

Two industry thought leaders share their views on where skills are heading in the digital revolution and why the engineering fraternity and technical training providers must work together to ensure the sustainability of our skills economy.

“The skills family is not hierarchical. Unfortunately, society has made it to be hierarchical. We’re partners in this process. Even with my best design on paper, I can’t do anything without people to build it. We’ve spent too much time glamourising the one at the expense of the other,” he continues.

This lesson is critical as we continue the narratives and debates around technology, automation and the so-called fourth industrial revolution, as it will require fresh perspectives, without any doubt.

The 4IR will require that the engineer becomes more innovative and creative to offset the impact of technology on activities that can be automated in the design process. Technicians and technologists will have to be reskilled and the new artisan, who was traditionally responsible for a good concrete finish of a wall, for example, will have to be schooled in concrete technology and repairing 3D printing equipment.

The artisan family would also have to gain a broader understanding of sensors, computerised systems, and electronic operating systems. From a human capital perspective, questions will arise around process efficiency, which will require more team-based approaches.

In the advent of a machine-dominant era, soft skills such as the ability to communicate in an integrated team environment will be critical for both engineers and artisans, says Jones. He refers to a research paper by Angelique Wildschut and Gerard Ralphs at the HSRC which found that sound technical vocabulary, the ability to talk about one’s work and the capacity for self-education, will contribute significantly to what is defined as ‘technical competence’ in the future.

“Eventually, the artisan of the future will become more technician-minded and will need to increase their understanding of automation and process thinking, building on their ability to talk about such processes with team members. However, as technological change sweeps up around us, we also need to take a step back and talk to each other, determining industry’s fundamental skills needs and revisiting the basics in technical skills training,” says Jones.

“If we address the requirement for upskilling among all members of the technical family equally and in close conversation with each other, no one contributor needs to become or feel redundant,” Campbell concludes.

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