Technological advancements related to the fourth industrial revolution are causing disruptive changes that are widely felt at national, industry, and company level. Industry 4.0, an initiative driving the fourth industrial revolution, is happening at an exponential speed, and embracing and adopting it is unavoidable for survival and competiveness. Although noticeable progress has been made in the use of Industry 4.0 technologies, systems, and processes in developed countries, there is uncertainty about the preparedness of businesses and industries in developing countries, including South Africa, to adopt Industry 4.0. The purpose of this research paper is to explore the readiness of South African industry in this regard. A questionnaire instrument with quantitative criteria compiled by the Impulse Foundation of Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau was used in this study. The exploratory study revealed that South African industry is faced with significant challenges in Industry 4.0 strategy formulation and equipment infrastructure to support Industry 4.0 requirements. The assessment pointed out that Industry 4.0 skills exist in pockets in South Africa, and so a further study to reveal more detail on Industry 4.0 skills requirements is essential.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution–The Case of South Africa
On becoming President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa put the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) into his national economic strategy, generating criticism for its neoliberal rhetoric echoing the World Economic Forum (WEF) and concern it would not create jobs. 4IR is an umbrella term for 3D-printing, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, industrial Internet of things (IIoT) and robotics. For corporations it means rethinking strategies and auto cannibalisation of business models. For policy-makers in manufacturing nations it is supposed to raise national competitiveness and bring manufacturing home, potentially blocking developing nations from creating jobs through attracting labour-intensive manufacturing. Its effects on work and employment are forecast to be complex, potentially heightening inequality by reducing demand for low levels of skills. South Africa has a significant skills shortage, due to failings in its education system, limiting the supply of managers, researchers and workers needed for 4IR. There are also problems of poor quality infrastructure, reflecting weak governance and state capture. It has a poor record in policy formulation and implementation, especially across departments, with notable delays in cybersecurity and data protection. There is only a small domestic market and, despite aspirations, it is not an easy gateway to the rest of Africa, which has strong demographic growth but limited spending power and poor physical distribution systems. Moreover, South African firms have to compete with a strong Chinese presence.