Calendared by the United Nations in 1989, Africa Industrialization Day represents a unique opportunity for policymakers, business leaders, development partners, and other individuals to raise awareness about the transformational opportunities that industrialization could have within Africa.

The driving force behind historical structural change has often been industry. For example, the ‘East Asian miracle’ is commonly attributed to the success of export and manufacturing methods in East Asian economies. Unfortunately, Africa has only had limited success in industrializing. Today, only about one in five workers leaving agriculture enters the manufacturing sector. Africa’s share of global manufacturing is smaller than in 1980 and the share of manufacturing in GDP is less than half of the average for all developing countries.

When broaching the subject of poverty eradication, industrialization is almost impossible to ignore. In Africa, over half of the nations are considered to be the poorest in the world. The continent has lower levels of success economically than the other six continents. Africa needs technological advancement, and the hope is that the incoming fourth industrial revolution (4IR) can revitalize the continent in both job-creation and reducing poverty.

4IR is a term used to describe the ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology. Around the world, demand is evolving toward adaptable social, behavioral, and non-repetitive cognitive skills, and increasingly away from routine tasks and narrow skills tied to specific jobs.

The World Economic Forum reports that the fourth industrial revolution could create 3 million jobs across Africa by 2025. More jobs means less unemployment, and in turn, less poverty. David Singleton is the Chairman of the Australasia Division of Arup – an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, architects, consultants and technical specialists. He compiled a report named ‘Poverty Alleviation – the role of the engineer’. He writes:

“The role of the engineer is important — but the engineer must work in collaboration with other professionals if sustainable poverty alleviation is to occur. Engineering solutions to poverty situations must take account of the socio-political and economic framework that they face if they are to achieve medium to long-term sustainability. Creative engineering solutions to alleviate poverty can be achieved when the engineering profession acts proactively to meet the challenges posed by the developing world.”

As a consequence, socio-political frameworks are an important consideration. Non-profit groups and governments have long had a philanthropic attitude towards Africa. Many say that what Africa needs is not ‘giving the man the fish’, but rather ‘teaching the man how to fish’. The role of education, especially for local engineers, is invaluable to the further industrialization of Africa. Educating African citizens up in globally recognized skills is key to building the continent up and unlocking its full potential.

Education is the key

At the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT), when one walks into the entrance of our new South African offices, there is a sign with a quote from the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

EIT has been equipping African engineering practitioners with the skills and knowledge they require for oncoming automation technologies that will reshape the continent. Many of our students apply what they have learned at some of the biggest mining operations, country-powering energy utilities, and water infrastructure plants on the African continent. They all unilaterally agree: Automation has crept into the sector and is playing a significant role in their workplace.

Automation is set to become more complex in nature, and more disruptive at every level of global engineering workplaces of the future. With careful implementation, more jobs can be gained on the African continent than lost. With targeted education, African engineers-to-be can learn crucial problem-solving skills that help develop their nations further.

EIT’s Dean of Engineering, Steve Mackay, who grew up in South Africa, in February visited several regions in southern Africa to address engineering practitioners at a host of conferences. What he saw in his most recent trip, was an African population of future engineers hungry to upskill and develop their skills.

“What we saw was quite a shock. We were delighted by the huge reception. Having a few hundred people coming to Gaborone in Botswana was amazing. I believe the interest in EIT on the African continent is because EIT is one of the only institutes in the world with online engineering qualifications that are globally recognized around the world,” Mackay said. “There is incredible enthusiasm in Africa for these engineering qualifications, and the continent will be better for it when there are qualified graduates empowering their communities”.

Works Cited

“Poverty Alleviation – the Role of the Engineer.” Arup, www.arup.com/perspectives/publications/speeches-and-lectures/section/poverty-alleviation-the-role-of-the-engineer.

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