Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Mondli Gungubele has emphasised the importance of holistic and concerted efforts to skill, upskill and reskill South Africans to thrive in the 4IR era.

The Minister was addressing the 2023 National Digital and Future Skills Conference hosted by the Department of Communications & Digital Technologies at the East London ICC this week. The event was themed: “Realising the digital economy and scaling up skills development to support innovation and the digital revolution” and was held in partnership with NEMISA, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and sponsors AWS and Vodacom.

The conference assessed the digital economy landscape, discussing ways to address South Africa’s digital skills gaps and considering bold actions to be taken to fulfil the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

In his keynote address, the Minister noted: “The recent Census 2022 data made it clear that our nation stands at a crossroads. It illuminates phenomena such as our evolving demographics and challenges of society. There is a critical need for action to skill, reskill and upskill the workforce to make the labour force more resilient and match the demands of the 4IR.

“Exactly three years ago, in October 2020, we received the recommendations from the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which echoed this sentiment, highlighting the essentiality of investing in our most valuable resource: human capital. By investing in human capital, we are not merely adapting to change; we are actively shaping a future where every South African can thrive in the digital economy,” he said.

“We need a comprehensive approach to digital skills development,” he said, noting that to thrive in the digital world, people needed both technology skills and soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, creativity and adaptability.

“These skills are the linchpin of a truly effective digital workforce. These skills empower individuals not only to navigate the complexities of technology but also to collaborate, innovate, network and empathise,” he said.

“These skills are the bridge connecting technology with human aspirations. We need to take a holistic approach to skills development that builds a workforce with diverse skills to future-proof industry and foster a culture of innovation and resilience,” the Minister said.

He noted that skills development initiatives had to be inclusive, empowering women and youth with the necessary digital skills, fostering innovation and nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset in all South Africans.

“By fostering a culture of innovation, we inspire people to think creatively and challenge the status quo. Our country isn’t doing well on entrepreneurship, therefore we need to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship through support for research, development, ensuring access to capital, mentorship and training, and a conducive regulatory environment that unchains business,” he said.

“We have no excuse for poverty and unemployment – we need to equip our people with the knowledge, skills and attitude to unleash the potential of our human capital. To be future-ready means being adaptive, agile and continuous learners. We must prioritise continuous learning and education to ensure that our workforce remains versatile and capable of adapting to evolving industries and job roles.

“Preparing for the future isn’t a solitary endeavour – it needs a concerted effort from all stakeholders – government, industry, civil society and educational institutions. Together, we can redefine the way we approach education and training to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to become a valuable contributor to our digital society,” he said.

The conference followed with deliberations by sector specialists on topics such as: Skills development for a digital economy, digital entrepreneurship and innovation, digital entrepreneurship and funding, research and development, women in the digital economy and digital curriculum in schools. A gala dinner hosted by the DCDT also commemorated the United Nations World Information Development Day, which is celebrated globally on 24 October.