2IR – The Electric Age

More people, greater demand 

In the year 1800, the world’s population stood at 1 billion; within a hundred years, by the turn of the 20th century, this would double, bringing  the number of people on the planet to an unprecedented 2 billion.

Not only did the world’s population grow, but thanks to the industrial revolution, people earned higher incomes, the overall standards of living went up, and the cost of living went down.

People in general were wealthier and better off than their forefathers from the 1800’s. They were able to eat better, dress better, and enjoy a higher standard of living. 

Add to all of this the rapid expansion of colonialism in the 1800s, and you have a capitalist’s dream: tens of millions of insatiable consumers demanding more products, and waving their money in your face.

Naturally, there was a greater demand than ever for food as well as for non-food items, such as clothing, medicines, cosmetics, furniture, crockery, cutlery and ornaments.

In addition, with new inventions came more things to buy, creating new consumer demand which the factories had to meet. A perfect example of this was  the invention of the internal combustion engine followed by the creation of the first car by Karl Benz in 1885.

Motor vehicles went on sale a short while later, and within two decades, cars were in huge demand globally. Everybody wanted an automobile.

Old modes couldn’t cut it

The existing farms and factories were not going to meet this massive new demand. There was a need for more farmland and bigger factories. More than that, there was a need for new, more efficient, more productive farming and manufacturing methods.

All things considered, the stage was set for another big change in the world. 

Waiting around 

The factories at the time had two major limitations. First, there was no systematic way of manufacturing items, and this led to a lot of inefficiency. 

The way the first cars were manufactured, for example, was that the parts would be lumped up in one section of the assembly plant, and the technicians would huddle around, pick up the parts they could, and start putting them together, one at a time. 

When one team completed the section they were working on, the next team would begin their work on it. For example, once the engine assembly technicians had completed assembling the engine, the engine installation team would install it into the car.

This was a very inefficient system of manufacturing, because the various sections of the vehicle were manufactured sequentially, instead of simultaneously. In other words, they were made one section after the other, from start to end. It was a time-consuming, time-wasting process. 

People had to stand around a lot, doing nothing while waiting for the teams ahead of them to complete their work.

Stinky, scorching steam engines

Second, all the machines in factories were powered by massive steam engines which were installed in sections of the premises away form where people worked, because of the heat, smoke and bad odours they generated. 

But that wasn’t the real problem with steam engines. The real problem was that each engine powered dozens of factory machines, and it was connected to them via a precarious system of pulleys and belts.

Try to picture it: a massive, rumbling engine sitting in the basement, spinning a huge pulley. This pulley was connected to another pulley upstairs using an extremely long belt. Then, that pulley would in tuen be connected to pulleys attached to the machines themselves, causing the machines to work.  

With its hundreds of moving parts, it was like a massive 3-D jigsaw puzzle of pulleys and wheels, and it was a troublesome system that broke far too often. A single failure could stop factory operations for hours until it could be fixed. And (God forbid!) a fault in the steam engine itself would bring the whole factory to a halt for days.

These were definitely not the right conditions for optimal production.

Artisans, assemble!

In 1913, Henry Ford changed manufacturing forever by setting up the first ever moving assembly line for manufacturing vehicles. His new system reduced the time required to build a complete car, from 12 hours to one-and-a-half hours.

Each person on the assembly line had one task to do, and a very limited time in which to do it before the line moved on. By the end of the line, there was a fully completed vehicle.

Henry Ford’s innovation was subsequently applied to manufacturing pretty much every type of item, and the world of manufacturing would never be the same again.

Electric motors

Another boost to manufacturing came form electric motors. Although invented in 1834, the electric motor was only improved enough for practical use during the late 1800’s. Even then, they could not be used because electricity was not available in factories.

But this was about to change.

The invention of the lightbulb led to a massive demand for electricity in towns and cities, and by the eary 1900’s, electricity lines were being rolled out all over the world. 

Manufacturers seized the opportunity, and began manufacturing and installing electric-powered machines in factories. The new machines were much smaller and more compact, did not give off any smoke or bad doors, and best of all, each had its own motor.

No more stinky steam engines, no more pulleys and belts, no more frequent failures that brought entire production lines to a grinding halt. 

Ready, steady, Revolution!

Assembly line and electricity gave rise to a whole new generation of factories, all of which were smaller yet far more efficient. Not only that, but they could be set up anywhere in the world in the fraction of the time it took to set up massive steam-powered factories.

The face of manufacturing was to change forever, and the stage was set for a revolution: the Second Industrial Revolution.

4IR – Rise of the Machines

What exactly is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a phenomenon where new, innovative and disruptive technologies are combining to completely and irrevocably change the way we live and work. 

Although the 4IR is being driven by a number of technologies, the three main technologies are Artificial Intelligence, Networks and Cyber-physical Systems.

Thanks to these three technologies, the 4IR is giving rise to so many new breakthroughs, and with such rapidity and at such a scale, that it is disrupting nearly every industry and affecting every person on the planet. 

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the branch of computer science interested in giving computers human-like qualities, such as the ability to learn new things, to speak fluently, understand human speech, to see and recognise people and objects, and to make complex decisions.

These new-found abilities are enabling computers to do things that were only possible for human to do previously, like driving cars, flying drones and planes, operating machinery, translating speech between languages, diagnosing illnesses and dispensing medicines.

Although AI has been around since the 1950s, it could not reach its full potential due to the lack of computing power.

Computer networks refers to the vast and complex system of satellites, fibre optic cables and cellular towers that transmit data at lightening speeds across the globe, transferring unimaginable volumes of data from place to place.

These networks are what make the World Wide Web possible, enabling us to surf the web, stream videos, post to social media, communicate with one another through chat and voice and video calls, purchase items, order food, call an Uber – basically everything that we know and take for granted today.

Finally, cyber-physical systems are traditionally non-computer devices that are now being given computer power and are being connected to the internet. 

For example, until recently, no one would have associated a farm animal with computing power. Yet, today cows are being fitted with tiny computers connected to sensors embedded in their bodies. These sensors constantly measure the cow’s heart rate, body temperature and other vital statistics, and transmit this data to the farm’s central server, enabling the farmer to monitor his stock and use AI to predict any outbreaks of illness before they happen.

Although these three technologies, AI, networks and cyber-physical systems have been around for a while – AI was around since the mid 1950s – they did not spark a revolution because they never combined in any meaningful way, until now.

As with so many other technologies, each of these technologies was insufficient in itself to spark a revolution, but together they are changing our world, causing a major global revolution: the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

I think a more appropriate title for the age we are living in, considering the fact that machines are now becoming ever-more capable and are beginning to be more like their human creators, is “Rise of the Machines.”

But the 4IR is not just about technology and machines. More than anything, it is about people. As with its predecessors, 4IR has the potential to increase incomes and improve standards of living; but unlike its predecessors, 4IR will not be limited to specific countries and regions. 

In contrast, the 4IR is the first of the industrial revolutions that is truly global in in nature and truly democratic, providing opportunities to people who never had them. It is not a privilege reserved for a segment of the population, such as the rich, or people in developed countries; it is truly for everyone.

This is thanks to the pervasive nature of technologies such as mobile devices and the internet. Today, all a person needs is a mobile device and internet access to seize the opportunities presented by the 4IR. 

The 4IR is about solving some of the most pressing problems we face, such as wealth inequality, access to healthcare, access to education, disease control, environmental degradation and global warming.

Today, people in some of the remotest parts of the world have access to the internet, enabling them to educate themselves, learn a new skill and gain access to vital services.

With nothing more than a mobile phone, few dollars and a drive to succeed, one is able start a business, sell their products or offer their services. The barriers to entry into a new business have never been lower.

There is no limit to what is possible.

1IR – the Age of Steam

The First Industrial Revolution, which took place in the 1700s and 1800s, changed our world by introducing steam power. The main driver of this revolution was the invention of the steam engine.

The steam engine provided human beings with a completely new form of power. Prior to steam, all we had was muscle power, and all modes of manufacturing and transport relied on either human or animal strength.

The invention of the steam engine led to the invention of steam-powered factories, which were much grander in scale than any factories prior to them, giving people the ability to manufacture more goods more rapidly than ever before.

Steam-powered farming implements made large-scale farming a reality, allowing them to produce more food than ever before.

Steam trains brought far away towns and cities closer, allowing factories and farms to distribute their products much further than before, and much more quickly.

With steam ships, sailors were no longer reliant on the ever-changing winds to drive their ships forward, making sea travel more predictable and reliable than ever before.

For the first time in history, we saw mass production and mass distribution of commodities. Food, clothing, tools, weapons, household appliances were all mass produced for the first time. And thanks to the ever-growing rail networks and shipping routes, distribution networks extended far beyond country borders and across oceans.

Wider distribution meant more customers, which meant more demand for goods, which meant more production, bigger factories and even wider distribution. It was an unstoppable cycle of growth and prosperity which radically transformed industry and society.

The rich landowners provided the capital to finance the new factories, becoming fabulously wealthy in the process, and giving rise to the age of capitalism.

Cities swelled in size as more and more people left the farms where their forefathers lived for hundreds of years, for better pay in the new factories. Stadards of living went up considerably.

The countries affected by the 1IR, like Britain, France and Germany, thrived and became world trade, commerce and military leaders.

Four Revolutions

The phrase “Fourth Industrial Revolution” has become a buzzword since it was mentioned by Professor Klaus Schwab in his book of the same name in 2016.

At the time. Professor Schwab believed that we were at the threshold of a revolution, one driven by massive advancements in technology. 

This, he believed was the fourth in a series of revolutions that took place over that past 300 or so years that completely transformed the way we lived and worked.

The previous revolutions catapulted us from muscle power to steam power, then to electric power and finally to digital power. 

Prior to the first industrial revolution, everything was driven by muscle power. Some work we did manually, while others were done by animals such as horses, mules and cattle. Then cam steam-powered machinery, which replaced muscle power and triggered an industrial revolution.

The second industrial revolution saw us graduate from steam to electricity, further accelerating our progress as a species.

The third revolution was very different from the first two, in the sense that it saw the introduction of completely new types of machines: machines that replaced brain power, instead of muscle power.

Just as the machinery in factories began to do most of the heavy physical work that was once done by humans and animals, computers began to do much of the heavy mental work, thereby freeing our brains to focus on more complex activities like creativity, problem-solving and innovation.

The 3IR was an exciting time that saw the introduction of computers, the internet, cellular phones, mobile devices, social media, e-commerce, e-learning and a whole host of new technologies never before imagined.

The 3IR continues to this day, but is now overlapped by the fourth in this series of major revolutions: the 4IR. In many ways, the 4IR is a product of the 3IR, in that it is built on technologies developed during the 3IR, but it is also radically different in many ways.

What differentiates the 4IR most from its predecessor, is artificial intelligence, or AI. AI has completely blurred the line between the human mind and computers by giving computers the power to do things that were only possible for humans to do previously.

Thanks to AI, computers can speak like we do, understand human language, recognise people, animals and other objects, teach themselves new skills they were not programmed to do and solve complex problems.

These new abilities are making computers into an indispensable ally in the innovation space. More and more, scientists, engineers and innovators are relying on AI to assist them in research and development, which means the rate of innovation will speed up considerably since computers are much faster than humans.

We will see new and revolutionary innovations in pretty much every current industry, as well as the birth of completely new industries. 

We will see major strides in computing, such as a new generation of mobile supercomputers, intelligent robots and quantum computers. There will be major strides in the fields of 3D printing, biotechnology, agricultural technology, financial technology and others.

Technologies such as neural implants, 3D printed limbs, lab-grown meat and cryptocurrency will be commonplace by 2030.

Lightbulb Moments in History

We know that innovation has been a constant force for change since the last century, but it seems we have crossed an invisible point in history where, instead of the rate of change slowing down, as many people expected it to, it is accelerating. 

It is like we were travelling in a really fast car at an incredible speed, and just when we thought we were travelling at full speed, the car suddenly began to accelerate and go even faster.

The question is, why now? What is causing the pace of innovation to increase?

The best way to answer this question is by an example. 

Benjamin Franklin, the famous inventor and scientist did his famous kite experiment in the year 1752. His aim was to prove that lightning was electricity, and that he could channel that electricity through a metal cable.

The experiment was a success, and miraculously Franklin survived it without being electrocuted.

Franklin’s experiment kicked off an era of serious scientific studies and discoveries on electricity, and by the early 1800’s scientists had mastered the use of electricity.

However, electricity never went mainstream until over 150 years after Franklin’s kite experiment. Why?

The answer is that no one saw the mainstream value of electricity. It was a great phenomenon to work with in a lab and to do experiments on, but that was the limit to its use.

All that was about to change in 1879, when another great American inventor, Thomas Edison, invented the first incandescent light bulb, a type of light bulb that produced light by passing electricity through an extremely thin metal filament.

The light bulb was no short of a miraculous invention in itself, but it also set off a series of events that went on to change our world. 

People immediately saw the advantages of the electric light over traditional lamps. They were cleaner, produced no smoke and unpleasant smells, were much brighter, and didn’t need to be constantly refuelled. Soon there was a demand for electric lighting. 

Naturally, with the demand for lights came the need for electricity supply.

In 1882 Edison set up the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, which began to roll out light bulbs to streets and homes close by. Within a short space of just of 30 years, the whole of the United States was electrified, and the rest of the world was soon to follow.

What we learn from this example, is that many great innovations are insufficient in themselves to drive any major change. They just sit on a shelf, waiting.

Eventually, a new innovation comes along, and a combination of the two innovations is what changes everything. Like electricity and the light bulb, each innovation was in itself insufficient to drive any real change. But combined, they worked together to spark a revolution that transformed our world.

This has been a recurring pattern throughout history, and the current wave of innovation we are experiencing, is no different. It is a time of convergence of a series of innovations which had been around for some time, but have never combined in any significant way, until now.

What are those innovations? They are artificial intelligence, computer networks and cyber-physical systems, and they are changing our world in previously unimaginable ways and have sparked a revolution: the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Fact 3: More Tech in the Next Decade than in the Previous Century

Did you know? We will see more new technologies in the next decade, than we saw in the previous century.

I know what you are thinking: this is impossible. There is no way so many new technologies could emerge in just ten years. Granted, we are living in a time of great technological progress, and we expect many new technologies to come to light over the next ten years; but more than in the previous century? No way. 

The previous century was the one that brought us pretty much all the technology that we know and love. Transistors, computers, satellites, space travel, the internet, cellphones, social media, instant messaging, e-commerce and so many more technologies were products of the previous century. How can we top all that, and in one tenth the period of time? 

It is not just possible, but is definitely going to happen, according to Peter Diamandis, who is a well known Silicon Valley entrepreneur, futurist, and founder of the Prize Foundation. Peter believes that the key is computational power. As computers become ever more powerful, they will unlock the doors to immense new potential in technological progress.

Exponential Computing Power

In 1965 American engineer and founder of Intel Corporation, Gordon Moore, made a prediction that the number of transistors per silicon chip in a computer will double every year for the next ten years. In simple terms, this means that computing power will double nearly every year for a decade. 

This became known as Moore’s Law, and many experts found it preposterous. They did not believe that computing power could double every year for ten years. 

But Moore’s law held true for the next decade, and it did not stop there; it has been over fifty years, and Moore’s Law still holds true to this day. Computing power hasn’t stopped doubling every year!

The result? Today we have supercomputers in our pockets that are more powerful than anything imaginable in the 1960’s. For example, the computer that helped land people on the moon during the Apollo mission was one of the most advanced and powerful in the world at the time. Your ordinary smart phone is 120 million times more powerful than that computer. 

Scientists say that today’s computers have the computing power of a mouse brain, and we are just a few years away from the computing power of the human brain. Sounds creepy, I know.

Data at the Speed of Light

Going hand in hand with the massive computing power available to us, are our super-fast, extensive computer networks which form the modern internet. Today we have computers connected across continents as if they are sitting right next to each other, because data transfer is so fast it seems instantaneous. 

Two people on opposite sides of the world can chat, share files and images and even edit the same document together thanks to the super-fast information highway, enabled by extensive networks of fibre optic cables, cellular networks and satellites. 

Fibre optic cables transmit data at the speed of light, and a single fibre, one eightieth the width of a human hair, can push through 14 trillion bits of information per second, which is equivalent to 210 million voice calls – all at the same time. Astounding.

Taking things a step further, Elon Musk’s SkyLink satellite network will provide internet access to the remotest parts of the world wirelessly from the sky.

As these networks grew and became more widespread, more and more devices became connected. In 1984 there were only 1000 devices connected to the internet. Today, there are over 20 billion connected devices. But not all of these devices are computers. 

The rise of expansive and reliable networks gave rise to the concept of the “Internet of Things” which is where things other than computers are now connected, and for various reasons. Home appliances, security systems, vehicles, medical equipment, heavy machinery, clothing and even farm animals are now connected to the internet.

Another side effect of these networks is the concept of the “neural network”. A neural network is where clusters of computers that are connected via high speed networks are able to operate as one single computer, sharing the processing power between them. This arrangement mimics the human brain, where each computer is analogous to a single brain cell, while the collective operates as a single, super-powerful brain. 

We are not Alone

What is the result of all this? Super-powerful computers, high speed networks and neural networks have together spurred the rebirth of an extremely powerful and potentially world-changing technology that was around since the 1950’s but could not reach its full potential because of the limitations of the technology at the time: Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has given computers immense new capabilities, giving them abilities that were only possible for humans previously. Computers are now able to speak to us, understand our languages, recognise people and objects and learn new things – just like their human creators. 

Thanks to these newfound abilities, they are now able to drive cars, pilot drones and planes, diagnose illnesses, operate machinery, solve complex puzzles, teach themselves and play games and a whole host of other tasks. 

Most importantly, thanks to their immense new power, computers are now able to help us to invent new technologies. Scientists and inventors are no longer trying to figure things out by themselves; they have help in the form of AI. 

So, whereas the technological advancement of the past century was driven by human beings, the tech advancement of the next decade will be driven by human beings plus artificial intelligence. 

And since computers tend to do things much faster than their humans creators, the tech advancement of the next decade will take place at a highly accelerated pace – likely ten times faster than ever before.

Fact 2: Half of all Jobs will Disappear Within a Decade

Fact No. 2 : Did you know 50 percent of today’s jobs will not exist in ten years time? 

How is this possible? How is it that half of the jobs people do today, will cease to exist in just a decade?

The answer lies with technology. As technology advances and becomes more capable, thanks to artificial intelligence and robotics, we will find computers and robots doing more and more of the jobs that were traditionally only possible for humans to do. 

Machines are now able to drive cars, fly drones, speak like people, prepare meals, dispense medication, monitor our health and a whole host of other things. In the next few years, your taxi will be a self-driving vehicle, your waiter, chef and baristas will be robots, the cashier at your nearest supermarket will be an AI, the call centre agent you speak to will be a computer, and your medication will be dispensed by a robot pharmacist. But this will just be what we see on the surface.

Machines will be doing countless other “invisible” jobs, jobs where we don’t normally get too see the workers, in industries such as agriculture and manufacturing. They will also do dangerous jobs like mining and undersea and space exploration. 

Machines have many obvious advantages over human beings, which will provide compelling reasons for businesses to adopt them in favour of humans. Machines don’t get tired or sleep, so are able to work 24-7. The best part is, they don’t earn a salary. They are more efficient and more precise than human beings. They don’t have personal problems, take sick leave, or go on holiday. A single machine might be able to replace dozens of human beings.

And did I mention, they don’t earn a salary?

With benefits such as these, it will be impossible for businesses to resist going the automation route; and as these technologies gain traction and become more widespread, they will gradually displace their human counterparts.

This is by no means a new trend. We’ve seen theis trend repeat itself over and over again in the past two centuries, where new, innovative and highly efficient machines replaced human beings en masse in farms and factories around the world.

But there was a major difference: in the past, machines were only able to take over the most manual types of work, the type of work that is highly structured, boring, repetitive and required no thinking at all. They were ideal for large scale farming and manufacturing, where they plugged the fields, harvested crops and worked in assembly lines systematically assembling components, weaving cloth and filling containers.

Today’s machines are a lot more capable, thanks to artificial intelligence, and are able to complete exceedingly more complex tasks.

Another likely scenario which will lead to jobs disappearing, is technological obsolescence. With the incessant flood of new innovations every year, existing technologies are constantly under threat of being replaced by newer, better technologies. 

In one moment a technology is the kind of the hill, and in the next, it is a memory of the past.

The thing is, when a technology is replaced or disappears, along goes the entire associated industry and all the jobs in that industry. 

We’ve seen this trend too repeat itself over and over in our lifetimes. Devices, gadgets, software and online services have come and gone. One of the most dramatic cases of a tech completely disappearing, was that of the video cassette recorder (VCR). At one stage, there were only two ways to watch a movie: on TV or on a VCR.

The VCR industry was huge at its peak, making billions of dollars in revenue and employing hundreds of thousands of people across its value chain, from research and development, to manufacturing, distribution, marketing, sales to after-sales service.

Add to that the associated industries that went hand-in-hand with the VCR industry, such as cassette manufacturing and sales, movie production on tapes, video rental stores and the like, and you can see how huge this global industry was.

Here is a mind-blowing example: the movie Lion King on video cassette sold $500 million worth of copies – that is half a billion dollars worth! That is just one movie!

Of course, as history testifies, that industry wasn’t going to last, and sure enough, towards the end of the last century, video cassettes were replaced by CD’s and then DVD’s. Blue Ray disks are enjoying a bit of time in the sun, but with 4k streaming and fibre internet becoming a standard in households throughout the world, even Blur Ray is destined to go the way of the VCR.

Now take some time to think about all those people who worked in the massive VCR industry, either directly or indirectly. It is not inconceivable that the number of people who earned their livelihoods through this industry would have been in the millions. What happened to all of them when the industry disappeared?

We know they didn’t die of starvation, so obviously they moved into other jobs in other industries. That is the nature of technology.

Ultimately, there are a few lingering questions: what current technologies are destined for the garbage dump, and what is the next big thing? What industries are going to go bust in the next decade? 

And most importantly: What jobs are going to disappear, and what new opportunities will arise?

How do you future-proof yourself?

Introduction to Chapter 1

Our our world is changing at an incredible pace. 

While it is true that our world has been in a constant state of change since just over hundred years ago, it seems that recently the pace of this change has accelerated for some inexplicable reason. 

It feels like its getting harder to keep up with this change. This change is unavoidable and pervasive; every aspect of our professional and domestic lives is affected. Just when we get used to doing things a certain way, things change and we have to learn a new way. Just when we get used to one technology, it disappears, and in comes some new, “better”, apparently “easier-to-use” technology. 

One day, a certain tech is the king of the hill, and the next, it is king of the garbage dump. 

If you have ever doubted that change is in fact accelerating, take a look at the list below. It shows how many years it took for various well-known technologies to reach an audience of 50 million people:

• Telephone: 75 years

• Radio: 38 years

• Television: 13 years

• Internet: 4 years

• Pod: 3 years

• Facebook: 2 years

• Instagram: 19 months

• YouTube: 10 months

• Twitter: 9 months

• Angry Birds: 35 days

• Pokemon Go: 19 days

Even at a glance, it is easy to see the trend that emerges from the list: with each new technology that appeared over the past 120 years, the time taken for widespread adoption by consumers became significantly shorter. Compare the 75 years it took the telephone to reach 50 million homes, to the 19 days it took Pokemon Go. It is simply astounding.


We often hear the word “disruption” being used to describe what is happening in the world, and to our lives, as a result of this breakneck pace of change. 

There is no doubt that our lives are being constantly disrupted. But what does disruption really mean? And how more specifically, what does it mean for us and the future of our lives and careers?

Rather than to answer these questions in tedious detail, I will instead present three facts which, I believe, will convey this in a far more impactful manner. 

These are coming up in the next three sections of this chapter.

Fact 1 – The Top 10 Jobs That Didn’t Exist a Decade Ago

Did you know, the top 10 jobs in demand in 2021, did not exist in 2010? 

What exactly does this mean? It means that in just over a decade, our world has changed so much, that entire new industries were created. And these industries didn’t just come into being; they caught on and thrived, to the extent that some became billion-dollar giants. 

All in a matter of 10 years.

Never before in the history of mankind have entire industries sprung up in such a short space of time as a decade. 

Now, when I talk about industries here, I’m not talking about individual businesses, but entire new industries comprising of clusters of businesses within them. 

An industry is defined as a group of companies that perform similar business activities. There are dozens of industry types in today’s economy, such as car manufacturing, tourism, insurance, commercial banking and software.

In the past decade we saw completely new industries emerging, such as biotech, cryptocurrency, autonomous vehicles, data science, 3D printing and machine learning. 

Being new and innovative, these industries needed people to do new and innovative things, therey giving rise to new job descriptions. And due to the rapid growth of these industries, those jobs have become the most in-demand in the world. 

Now, you may be wondering what types of jobs are those? Here are a few examples: 

  • Machine Learning Engineer
  • Social Media Manager
  • Advanced Analytics
  • Driverless Car Engineer
  • Data Scientist
  • Security: Activity Monitor

Let’s consider an everyday example. When you speak about an iPhone today, everybody knows what you are talking about. But if you mentioned the word iPhone in 2008, it wouldn’t have made sense. People might have thought you were saying “I phone…”,  as if you were going to say you were going to call someone, but you did not complete your sentence.

Someone might have asked you: “You phone who? Please complete your sentence!” 

Now, in a similar way, we have a whole lot of technologies that are emerging, that are creating new job opportunities, and new job descriptions that we have never seen before. 

What does this all mean for us?

It essentially means two things. Firstly, that we are living in a time of rapid change, unlike anything our forefathers ever experienced; and that change is unpredictable. No one, no expert in the world, can say with certainty what the next decade or even half decade will bring. 

Secondly, it means we will have to learn to adapt very quickly to these changes, and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist. I know that sounds crazy, but that is the reality we are living in.

Why the Grade 9 Exit Point for SA Schools could be headed for Disaster

When Deputy Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, recently announced that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is planning to “formalize” grade 9 as one of the exit points for school, social media were ablaze with criticisms, with people saying that it is likely going to worsen a situation that is already critically bad.

No doubt, the youth unemployment problem has reached crisis proportions.

Youth unemployment in this country is among the highest in the world. According to StatsSA, as of the first quarter of 2019 the unemployment rate among the 15 to 25 age group stood at a shocking 55,2%. This is an unsustainable situation, and it is just a matter of time before the entire economy of the country starts to feel the pinch, if it hasn’t already. 

As if that is not alarming enough, the school dropout rate has now reached crisis proportions. Nearly half of the kids entering grade 10 do not make it through matric. These kids usually end up as unemployment statistics. Year after year, this pattern repeats itself, adding more young people into the unemployed masses, further aggravating the crippling poverty in this country.

South Africa desperately needs change.

We have not been given enough details about Minister Motshekga’s plans to say whether it is going to be the change that the country needs, but one thing is very clear: we need to be careful to not place the cart before the horse on this one, or else it will fail.

I do not believe the idea of formalising grade 9 as an exit point is a bad one; in fact, it is a great idea, and one that is not only needed in South Africa, but is being considered in even some developed countries like the United States.

Not all learners are academic, and the current system of channelling everyone through a purely academic system is actually one of the primary reasons for kids dropping out of school. Learners who are not academic, but might possess other inherent talents, such as creativity, artistic abilities, business acumen, or technical prowess, are made to feel inferior because they are unable compete with their academically inclined counterparts.

This is perfectly summed up in a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

It seems that the entire schooling system has been designed with university entrance in mind. In fact, Sir Ken Robinson, the world-renowned author, speaker and education advisor, says that “If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance.”

This system is not only demoralizing and demotivating, but also highly counter-productive. Non-academic skills are in high demand in the economy, but young people are dissuaded from entering such careers because the academic path is highly, and unduly, glorified. 

Let’s face it: we consider it bragworthy to say that a child is studying medicine or law, but not so much that she is studying carpentry, plumbing or motor mechanics. Yet, the latter are potentially lucrative career paths. 

It is for this reason that I believe Minister Angie’s vision to allow learners to choose a learning path from as young as grade 9 is a great idea, and could help solve a number of problems.

Firstly, it could tackle the country’s youth unemployment problem. If this is implemented correctly and according to a long-term strategic plan, we could soon be churning out matriculants who are skilled enough to get into employment or start a business of their own, thereby boosting the overall economy.

Secondly, the school dropout rate could drop because learners will be able to pursue a path that they are passionate about. Further, it will be a huge relief for poorer parents, knowing they will not have to send their kids to university for four years before they are employable.

Conceptually, the grade 9 exit plan is a great one, but it should actually be among the last steps in a long-term strategic plan. The plan should start with taking a good close look at the current alternatives to university: the vocational and technical schools. 

Are these institutes providing the levels of education that will facilitate the vision? Will learners come out of these schools equipped with the requisite skills for employment? Are they mainstream enough that they provide a viable alternative for youth throughout the country?

A cursory study of the current status quo shows that we are far from ready. What we need is a considerable investment in time and money to bring the current institutes to the levels where they become centres of excellence, and to establish many more such institutes around the country, where they will become accessible to all learners.

Only then will the grade 9 exit point have a chance to become the solution we need. Trying to “jump the queue” will lead to a total disaster.