It is crucial not to leave people behind amid the hurtling speed of changes in technology, Transnet Group CE Siyabonga Gama has warned.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to create better jobs and new industries that have never been thought of. But this must transform the global economy for the betterment of humanity,” he told delegates at the International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA) conference, in Cape Town, on Wednesday.
He said there were great concerns about unemployment in South Africa, particularly among young people. The youth needed to be brought on board in a new digital era.
“A digital world calls for new skills. We need to invest in training and education. Part of what we have to do is to come up with an education system that focuses on entrepreneurship rather than job-seeking, and promotes ideas that can be commercialised.”
The IHHA conference has focused sharply on shifts that may affect the heavy haul industry, from information and communications technology-driven mechanical processes to big data, remote maintenance and artificial intelligence.
Gama said South Africa wanted to industrialise as a country and invest in infrastructure, but also develop human capital.
“As Transnet, we want to become an agile company driven by the new digital world that we are embracing. We want the opportunities that are created by this new era to assist us in terms of defining what the new world must be, but as we do that, we must never forget the human touch.”
The debate focused heavily on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so called as it is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century.
“The fourth industrial revolution needs to be a system that puts people first, because if it doesn’t, then we are not going to have the kind of world that can lift the standards of living of mankind,” said Gama.
“We have already seen how Uber and AirBnB have disrupted the world. That kind of disruption will continue so we need to embrace it. We are at the cusp of many and new innovations, propelled by digital advances. There are going to be astounding breakthroughs.”
But, he said, people needed to be at the centre of change. Gama also called for economies to remain open. He said there was a worrying trend towards closed economies in some large industrialised countries.
“We need greater interaction in the world and an infusion of ideas. We need to create more open economies, where we can do more and trade more with one another. These are turbulent times because of issues around terrorism, the refugee crisis and issues around conflict. But we need to see globalisation as a blessing not a curse.”
Gama was speaking at a special strategy session at the conference. The conference has also focused on using technological advancements on heavier and longer trains, with high axle loads of about 25 t per axle.