African millennial’s and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Petunia Mpoza

A shift is taking place in Africa! The imaginary walls are fast coming down, the narrative of a dark continent is being challenged and rightly so. Africa is colourful, Africa is bright and Africa has something to say, the youth are rewriting and retelling the African story. A story of an Africa that is aware of its power and endless potential when working together. There is no time like the present, to come together and harness our resources, both human and natural.

Africa’s most precious resource historically is its skilled manpower. According to the journal African Economic Outlook, published by African Development Bank, Africa has one of the largest working age population groups who are urbanizing at a rapid pace. Over 40% of its working age population is between the ages of 15 and 24. This makes it one of the ‘youngest’ continents in the world. There are almost 200 million youths in Africa and that number is expected to double by 2045.

So who are these youngsters anyway?

Millennials are those born from the early 1980s to 1994 and they are taking the world by storm, changing the face of the continent and transforming the world’s understanding of Africa, from the ‘dark continent’ to the ‘lit’ Africa, lit in every sense, from music, dance moves to innovative ideas and fashion #kusazobalit. These millennials are championing the information age and are an invaluable resource in our time of information and technology.

Millennials are said to be born during the digital age, when most households owned a television set or a computer using floppy disks. They’re familiar with TV games and grew up in and around digital and internet communications.

Having grown up with remotes, consoles and keyboards beneath their fingers, it’s no surprise that they ease into software and technology, some have even taught their parents how to turn on a computer (and constantly update their Whatsapp emoticon knowledge).

But on our continent, African millennials have not always enjoyed the title. Rampant inequality, violence and war are serious challenges to youth development, education, health and safety. The staggering rate of youth unemployment is another hurdle that cannot be ignored. It is important to revisit the education system and ask key questions. For instance, does the school curriculum speak to current demands, such as the tech businesses, startups and information and communications technology? We need to be safe, educated and allowed the space to innovate if we are to partake in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to Leon Viljoen, the Managing Director of ABB Southern Africa, is driven by “the coming together of physical and digital technologies”. It takes into consideration advances in artificial intelligence, technology becoming cheaper and therefore more available, as well as the collection of data. Think self-driving cars, AI robots and your smart phone on steroids. We are fast moving towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it will drastically change the way we live, communicate and make a living and we need to start preparing lest we be left behind.

“Being digitally enabled – which means having your machines, robots and systems feeding data to the cloud – is an entry ticket into the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” wrote Viljoen recently. He goes on to say, “In the years ahead, essential infrastructure, such as the power grid and the water supply, as well as industry and our transport networks, will increasingly be controlled and operated by autonomous systems. On the one hand, this will bring tremendous benefits in terms of avoiding outages and shortages, and freeing-up humans from dull, dangerous and degrading work. On the other, the workforce and society as a whole will have to adapt to a new industrial landscape, where people work alongside robots and machines.”

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, says that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is different to revolutions of the past. “[The Fourth Industrial Revolution] is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human,” he says in his book, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

Talks around this issue seem to be takimg shape. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in his opening address of the 26th World Economic Forum on Africa in January 2016 encouraged the continent to look ahead to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and called for partnerships across Africa. This is a positive development, one that governments and business people across the continent need to take seriously.

If African millennials are to take advantage of any technological opportunities, the disjuncture between, education, skills and the labour market must be fixed. The youth must be knowledgeable and employable, in all sectors, white and blue collar.

Let the harnessing of the youth during the digital age no longer be a debate, they must be equipped and ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. They need quality education and the space to be innovative, funding and work exposure must also be readily available. Companies must be incentivised to hire learners and students who can learn on the job, alleviate backlogs and offer creative solutions to contemporary problems.

The Forth Industrial Revolution will not progress without Africa.

More stories in Issue 99

Contributors

Petunia Mpoza

Petunia Mpoza is a researcher, commentator and political analyst. Her work experience includes both public and private sectors. She is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar who is passionate about youth, community, sports and skills development as well as education and career guidance. She specialised in International Relations, Media and Communications. She is politically conscious and has […]

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