Taking the Fourth Industrial Revolution to rural communities

Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) has now expanded its vision to the North West. Picture: Supplied

Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) has now expanded its vision to the North West. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 7, 2024


By Zingisa Mkhuma

Fresh from bringing high-tech smart centres to rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, and the Eastern Cape, the pioneering Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA) has now expanded its vision to the North West.

This is part of their plan to ensure that rural communities throughout South Africa can engage with the latest on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and robotics, to ensure that they are not left out of the digital divide.

The R5 million SMART Skills Centre in Brits, North West, unveiled last week, will provide comprehensive digital skills programmes tailored for enterprises, individuals, schools, and TVET colleges in the region.

Since October 2022, CHIETA has established a chain of SMART Skills Centres (SSC) in four South African provinces, including the one in the North West.

The other SSCs are in Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape, at the Mthashana Skills Centre in Babanango, a small rural town in Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal, and at the Iqhayiya Campus of Port Elizabeth TVET College in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.

Thousands of learners have already engaged with the technology at Melmoth and Saldanha Bay centres.

This month, CHIETA plans to launch another SSC in Witbank, Mpumalanga, and another in Giyani, Limpopo, to build "intelligence centres" in every province.

This will ensure that people in rural areas can access free services and training courses, as well as data access for job seekers, small and medium enterprises (SMMEs), and business start-ups.

The SSCs are fully automated and have equipment that meets the requirements of 4IR training - AI and robotics.

With a particular focus on rural learners, the centres aim to bridge the digital divide by offering access to data and a wide range of training courses.

“Whether you're a job seeker, a budding entrepreneur, or a small business owner looking to expand, our services are designed to empower you on your journey to success,” said CHIETA Chief Executive Officer Yershen Pillay at the opening of the Brits SSC recently.

Key Features of the Centre Include:

Access to Data Resources

Tailored Training Courses

Support for Job Seekers

Assistance for Business Start-ups

Growth Opportunities for SMMEs

“The SMART Skills Centres usher in a new era of skills development and training that would be located within rural communities and able to offer digitised training programmes for rural masses,” said Pillay, who also commended the partnership with big business and international partners, including Singapore.

Calling the idea of starting Smart Skills Centres “Innovating for Impact,” Pillay said every community should have an SSC in every corner of the country working with big business, where the “focus is on execution,” while lobbying the government and big business to join in.

“What is a SCC? It is a space providing skills and training in a digital and transformative environment to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban communities. No one is left behind in the digital space where emerging technologies, including AI and robotics, merge,” Pillay added.

CHIETA Chairperson Wezi Khoza said the SCC will provide training and support services not only to the youth but also to the elderly, who must learn digital language to keep up with technological advancements.

“We have many grandmothers on TikTok. So they, too, can learn digital skills like holding Skype meetings online,” Khoza said.

Deputy Director-General of Higher Education and Training, Zukile Nomvalo, hailed the opening of the SCC in Brits as a significant milestone in ushering in a new era of skills development and training aimed explicitly at rural communities.

“It paves the way for digitised training programmes for rural masses, ensuring they are not left behind and are equipped for the future,” said Nomvalo.

CHIETA's groundbreaking initiative to develop digital skills in Britain and its surrounding regions has been spearheaded by CHIETA in collaboration with Orbit TVET College; this centre promises to catalyse innovation and opportunity in the community.

The centre aims to bridge the digital skills divide and accelerate the development of basic digital skills for a future-fit workplace as part of the CHIETA strategy to innovate for impact in societies nationwide.

Nomvalo said the opening of SSCs countrywide follows a call from the Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, who articulated a vision for SMART Skills Centres to be established in all parts of the country by 2020.

“Indeed, this is a critical step in the context of the demand and opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Launching the CHIETA Brits SMART Skills Centre in the Northwest is particularly important in our quest to ensure nobody gets left behind in this revolution.

“In the future, when we talk about digital transformation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and workers of the future, thanks to this initiative, Brits are a part of the exciting journey ahead.

“It is the type of place at risk of falling further behind the digital skills divide, with its youth at risk of being excluded from meaningfully participating in the new digital era that is upon us. In this context, I cannot overstate the importance of this SMART Skills Centre being located here.

“As a department, I must say that this is part of our ongoing efforts to bridge the digital skills divide and accelerate the development of basic digital skills among rural communities across the country," said Nomvalo.

He stressed that the SMART Skills Centres do not exclude those over 35, although the emphasis is on the 15–24 cohorts. More than 3 million of these are uninsured, and their unemployment rate is close to 60%.

“There is an unemployment crisis in our country. We are multiplying skills centres so young people can venture into these terrains. Talk about mobile repairs, data capture and data analysis skills.

“An example is that most of those with mobile repair skills are foreigners. We talk about all gadgets, and there are millions of people who use them. If we train our young, we can exploit these areas,” he said. This was first published in © Higher Education Media