Opinion Piece: Industry 4.0 and the changing job landscape
The world as we know it is on the brink of a revolution, driven by emerging technologies that are set to fundamentally alter our lives in unprecedented and unanticipated ways. This shift to Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, hinges off the increasing pervasiveness of digitisation.
As machines become more ‘intelligent’ and capable of learning, they are able to perform more and more tasks that were previously not possible. While this opens up many possibilities, it also means that the job landscape will become a very different place. As machines take over many mundane, repetitive tasks, some humans who previously performed these tasks will become redundant. Organisations in general, and HR departments in particular, will need to re-examine the way resources are deployed, and potentially invest in new skills for jobs that currently do not exist.
Automation will make certain jobs redundant
While machines will never entirely replace humans in the workforce, there are certain jobs that will become redundant thanks to Industry 4.0. This has been the case for each industrial revolution, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is no exception. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics advance, low-level jobs will inevitably be taken over by ‘machines’, which are capable of performing these tasks faster and with fewer errors.
Automation not only makes certain tasks faster, it also makes them more cost effective, particularly those in manufacturing. Take for example, the vehicle manufacturing industry, which has, with every Industrial Revolution become increasingly automated. Today, machines are responsible for the vast majority of the manufacture of the vehicles on our roads, which has made cars more affordable and more advanced, as well as safer and more standardised.
Unfortunately, while automation makes mundane, repetitive tasks easier, quicker and cheaper to perform, it also means that the people who previously did these jobs will be out of work. The potential for Industry 4.0 is also practically limitless, and it is impossible to accurately predict the changes that will come about. Organisations are now faced with the challenge of redeploying resources, and potentially acquiring new skills to cater for jobs that do not currently exist and cannot even be imagined at present.
New skills for a new workforce
While jobs will inevitably be lost to machines, others are also created in certain industries where products need to be customised. For example, in the car manufacturing industry, machines are designed to mass produce standardised components and cars. Labour is still needed for custom features and special touches outside of the standard vehicle features. In addition, humans will still typically be required to operate the machines as well as maintain and repair them. This means that new technology introduces new opportunities, which will in turn create new jobs. The challenge for organisations is to acquire the skills required to fulfil these new roles, and Temporary Employment Services (TES) can offer a solution.
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Utilising a TES provider can assist organisations with access to a large pool of potential workers with a broad range of skills and experience to meet varying requirements. TES provider’s continuously work to upskill employees to ensure that they can continue to provide effective service, no matter how challenging the employment landscape becomes. This means that workers acquired in such a fashion will be empowered to work far more effectively and with the required synergy and pace to achieve business requirements and technological demands.
From a local perspective
The world is clearly gearing up for Industry 4.0, and while a number of businesses in South Africa will follow suit, many will lag further behind this trend. The cost of mechanisation and socio-economic demands in South Africa mean that businesses may limit their mechanisation efforts, in turn minimising the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the country.
In terms of socio-economic pressures, government has a significant role to play in the limiting of mechanisation. For instance, job creation plays a major role in the allocation of tenders. Therefore companies seek to be seen as job creators, rather than to be in the news for large retrenchments.
Businesses who want to remain competitive where tenders are concerned, will elect not to mechanise and are therefore under pressure to increase the productivity of their labour force in order to remain competitive with the businesses that have mechanised. A TES provider may help tremendously in this regard to ensure organisations have access to the productive workforce they need in order to remain competitive.
A proactive approach is essential
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is imminent, and this means that everything is poised for change. Businesses are going to have to adapt, or risk becoming redundant. Taking a proactive approach to this changing business environment will serve organisations well in ensuring they are able to keep pace with change.
From a worker’s perspective, a proactive approach will also stand them in good stead. While certain jobs will be taken over by machines, there will also be a place for humans. However, the working environment is going to become far more demanding and it is going to require far more flexible workers who are well trained and are able to cope with the changing nature of this new, uncertain business world.
First Solar to Invest US$684mn in Indian Energy Sector
First Solar is about to set up a new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar manufacturing facility in Tamil Nadu, India. The 3.3GW factory will create 1,000 skilled jobs and is expected to launch its operations in Q3 of 2023. According to the company, India needs 25+ gigawatts of solar energy to be deployed each year for the next nine years. This means that many of First Solar’s Indian clients will jump at the chance to have access to the company’s advanced PV.
Said Mark Widmar, First Solar’s CEO: ‘India is an attractive market for First Solar not simply because our module technology is advantageous in its hot, humid climate. It’s an inherently sustainable market, underpinned by a growing economy and appetite for energy’.
A Bit of Background
First Solar is a leading global provider of photovoltaic systems. It uses advanced technology to generate clear, reliable energy around the world. And even though it’s headquartered in the US, the company has invested in storage facilities around the world. It displaced energy requirements for a desalination plant in Australia, launched a source of reliable energy in the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), and deployed over 4.5GW of energy across Europe with its First Solar modules.
The company is also known for its solar innovation, reporting that it sees gains in efficiency three times faster than multi-crystalline silicon technology. First Solar holds world records in thin-film cell conversion efficiency (22.1%) and module conversion efficiency (18.2%). Finally, it helps its partners develop, finance, design, construct, and operate PV power plants—which is exactly what we’re talking about.
How Will The Tamil Nadu Plant Work?
Tamil Nadu will use the same manufacturing template as First Solar’s new Ohio factory. According to the Times of India, the factory will combine skilled workers, artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, and IoT connectivity. In addition, its operations will adhere to First Solar’s Responsible Sourcing Solar Principles, produce modules with a 2.5x lower carbon footprint, and help India become energy-independent. Said Widmar: ‘Our advanced PV module will be made in India, for India’.
After all, we must mention that part of First Solar’s motivation in Tamil Nadu is to ensure that India doesn’t rely on Chinese solar. ‘India stands apart in the decisiveness of its response to China’s strategy of state-subsidised global dominance of the crystalline silicon supply chain’, Widmar explained. ‘That’s precisely the kind of level playing field needed for non-Chinese solar manufacturers to compete on their own merits’.
According to First Solar, India’s model should be a template for like-minded nations. Widmar added: ‘We’re pleased to support the sustainable energy ambitions of a major US ally in the Asia-Pacific region—with American-designed solar technology’. To sum up: Indian solar power is yet the next development in the China-US trade war. Let the PV manufacturing begin.