The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation has identified several sectors and jobs which it expects to shape the country’s near future.
The sectors are outlined in a white paper, published for public comment on Monday (6 June), alongside the government’s broader expectations for the country’s workforce and how it will be shaped by technology.
“Various megatrends, such as population growth and urbanisation, and technological advances are increasing uncertainty. These changes present opportunities and threats (e.g. a changing manufacturing environment can lead to economic growth but also to the loss of traditional jobs,” it said.
“In particular, it is necessary to prepare for the ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) and advances in ICT will change the way society and the economy function. Already, traditional jobs are being lost to automation, and traditional commerce is being disrupted by the move to online and the development of fast, personalised services and products.”
At the same time, these changes are creating new opportunities, including new market opportunities, the department said.
“For example, the growth of the middle-class in emerging economies, and the high proportion of young people in national populations (the so-called ‘youth bulge’) in Africa, are stimulating manufacturing, widening markets for mobile telephones, and creating ICT-enabled job opportunities for young entrepreneurs in the services sector.”
“South Africa can benefit from these emerging market opportunities by using technology to modernise sectors such as agriculture and mining, and increase exports to growing markets in Africa and other emerging economies.”
Furthermore, tapping into the international trend for outsourcing presents a significant opportunity for South Africa to host the R&D centres of large multinational companies, reaping the concomitant benefits of job creation and foreign investment, it said.
The department identified several sectors and jobs which are likely to shape the near future, including:
This special form of carbon is very versatile as it is both light and strong, and can conduct heat and electricity better than any other material. It can be used in bioelectric sensory devices to monitor glucose levels, cholesterol and even DNA sequencing.
It is flexible and thin, so graphene-based photovoltaic cells can be used in clothing, to help recharge mobile devices and even in curtains to help power a home.
Regenerative medicine experts
Research in tissue engineering and molecular biology holds the promise of stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms to heal previously irreparable tissue and organs.
It also has the possibility of growing tissues and organs in the laboratory and implanting them into the body so that it can heal itself.
Carbon capture and storage specialists
This is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide from large point sources, such as fossil fuel power plants, transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere – normally in an underground geological formation.
Such geoscience-based technologies can mitigate the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming and ocean acidification.
Simulation and gaming modellers
Modelling and simulation is a substitute for experimentation where computers calculate the results of physical phenomena. It is important in research as it represents real systems through mathematical models that simulate the dynamics of the system.
This makes it possible to explore system behaviour in ways that are often not possible, too risky or too expensive in real life. Gaming technology refers to a range of technologies used in computer games such as facial and voice recognition, gesture control, artifical intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality.
Artificial intelligence and virtual reality
The creation of algorithms that can learn, understand language and mimic some aspects of the human mind have led to huge advances.
The ultimate goal is artificial general intelligence, which can outperform humans across a wide range of disciplines. Virtual reality (VR) will transform the nature of both entertainment and education.
Applications include gaming, fully immersive VR movies and training pilots and surgeons. In the case of medical training, fully interactive, accurately modelled specimens that suffer from various ailments and need surgery can be modelled using a VR interface.
Quantum computers will revolutionise the future of computing. Quantum computers, algorithms and principles differ from computing based on digital circuits as they can process much more information much faster.
Potential societal applications include the protection of low-lying areas from flooding, encryption for communication on technology, and robust and efficient aircraft with low noise and CO2 emissions.
This globally emerging discipline explores the connection between human and animal health, and rocks and minerals. An environment’s geology influences the chemical make-up – and health – of the life within it.
People who live on impoverished soils lack essential trace minerals, which triggers various diseases, while excess chemicals, such as arsenic and fluoride, can cause serious illnesses.
Where people live in close contact with the physical environment, medical geology provides a new way of understanding and solving health problems.