In 2022, the industrial manufacturing sector contributed 11.4% towards the overall GDP (R3 trillion). Today, around 1.5 million people work in industrial manufacturing, and are witnessing progression at a rapid pace within the sector. Vinesh Maharaj, PwC South Africa’s Smart Manufacturing Lead, says, “New technologies are changing the face of manufacturing. Factories are becoming increasingly connected, as machines talk to one another and to humans, and automation reaches new milestones with robots becoming more independent. This has understandably left groups of employees jittery over 4IR’s impact on job security and changing roles.” 

Exciting disruptions within the sector are causing business leaders to pivot due to the rapid innovation of new digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. “We are also seeing that what is being manufactured and howit is produced is changing too. For example, in the automotive manufacturing industry, there is a global shift to hybrid and eco-friendly vehicles.” 

Vinesh adds, “Sustainability considerations are increasingly important, as companies seek to reduce their environmental footprint and improve their social impact. Developing green skills among employees is crucial to achieving these goals and creating a sustainable future. From an industry lens, the globalindustrial manufacturing sector understands the importance of upskilling their employees on the importance of green skills (42%). However, South Africa has some way to go with only 24% seeing it as an important skill.   

Attract investors

“Our latest Global CEO Survey highlights that investors are more likely to invest in companies that efficiently manage sustainability risks and opportunities, and 79% agree that the consideration of sustainability risks and opportunities is a significant factor in their investment decision making. Therefore, sustainability is essential not only from an impact point of view, but also in attracting investors.” 

Sustainability should be of crucial importance to local business leaders as South Africa’s relative passivity in decarbonisation efforts makes it the most carbon-intensive country within the G20. “The case for change is real, and industrial manufacturing companies need to re-look at their sustainability strategies and establish how to enable their workforce to execute them.”

This article outlines four ways this can be done. It is also important to bear in mind the buy-in that is needed from the C-suite to the shop floor, as well as the realignment of the entire workforce. 

Connected workforce

The fourth industrial revolution comes with a wealth of technology that brings opportunities for production cost reduction, productivity and earnings improvement, and the development and introduction of new business lines. Despite this, almost three quarters (72%) of South African workers have said they are concerned that automation is threatening many jobs. 

Technology adoption

“While it is expected that there will be a decline of repetitive tasks for assembly and factory workers, material handlers and many other roles, the decline will be counterbalancedby an increase in new, often formal, wage jobs being created, especially in the service sectors, and at a faster rate. It will also result in earnings improvements in the informal sector,” says Vinesh. This is supported by a 2023 World Economic Forum report which asserts that technology adoption will remain a key driver of business transformation in the next five years. 

Retain talent

“By creating a digital transformation journey through the use of a variety of applications and technologies, this will empower, retain and attract the workforce,” he explains. “The effective implementation of this is likely to increase efficiency, decrease cost, improve customer experience and facilitate a company’s growth.”

Occupying new jobs

Very importantly, Vinesh emphasises that negatively impacted staff need to be given the first opportunity to be trained into occupying the new jobs created. “This will require three to five year planning horizons through a robust strategic workforce planning strategy.”  

South Africa’s competitors are all adopting 4IR technologies and developing their workforce. If the country’s industrial manufacturing sector fails to follow suit, it will continue to fall behind and deindustrialise. Leaders need to invest in strategies which are more technology and sustainability focused in order to create a culture that will help them stay relevant, attract and retain employees, improve productivity and make an impact, both inside and outside of the workplace.

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