10 Jul

When The Robots Come: Keeping BEE Relevant In The Face of Disruption


The true north of our country is economic prosperity for all who live in it

By Phathizwe Malinga, Acting CEO, SqwidNet

The spirit of B-BBEE has had the most impact on us achieving this collective vision. At its core, B-BBEE policy ensures that all those who had been previously excluded are now able to participate in this vision. As a result, a B-BBEE compliant company signifies their buy-in.

In the decade since B-BBEE was launched, we have seen the rise of global trade, forcing our companies to be increasingly competitive to survive. It follows that one of the ways a company can seek to be B-BBEE compliant is by upskilling its people, as the right people often contribute to better profitability. According to the University of Toronto’s Roger Martin, most jobs require one of two types of skills – repetitive jobs, which require little judgement, and creative ones, which need constant decision making.

The rapid rise of technologies and ubiquity of the Internet have the power to exponentially shift our quality of life. Today, a factory robot costs R300 000, but in 10 years it will likely cost 1% of that. Just this dramatic drop in price alone will see us embrace robots in many ways, both in our homes and businesses. Naturally, these robots will be suited to repetitive tasks, producing a data-based output that a human will use to ultimately make decisions. Some robots are not necessarily physical but exist in computer code.

Today, we are already able to generate and store near real-time data about all our assets, like the amount of water flowing to help detect water leaks or a navigation app that predicts traffic on our smartphones.

As the cost of robots become less than paying a human minimum wage, I ask, “What then, of the B-BBEE skill that we teach today, if that skill is repetitive?”

Even though robots outperform us with repetitive tasks, they cannot make decisions. Your navigation system can suggest a route, but you can ignore it because you know you need to pick up milk on the way. Context is everything, and beyond the data, it remains intuitive.

So when we think of upskilling our people in order to uphold the spirit of B-BBEE, let’s look at the kind of skills we want to develop. At an educational level, let’s make sure that we teach skills like critical thinking, chess, art and math that improve decision making. Let’s teach our people skills that will complement the inevitable influx of these robots, as they are here to help our businesses gain competitive advantage, and ultimately improve our quality of life.


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