Manufacturing employment cannot be expected to generate the same level of employment growth in the developing world now as it did in previous decades. Professor Robert Lawrence spoke to South African policy-makers and business leaders about the evolution of manufacturing in a world of digitisation and robotisation, and what these trends might mean for South Africa’s prospects of a manufacturing-led employment boom
In both developed and developing nations, the proportion of a country’s workforce that is engaged in manufacturing activities is falling.
Professor Lawrence argues that every new technology, while destroying some jobs, has created many others that could not have been conceived of previously. However, many of those for whom jobs need to be created are not sufficiently skilled to secure high-productivity manufacturing jobs.
South Africa must focus on specialising in specific manufactured goods that can compete at world prices.
South Africa faces extraordinary challenges in dealing with the crisis of unemployment that is, as much as anything else, a crisis of inadequate growth. There is a lot of evidence that, at least from the point of view of job creation, manufacturing-led development will have to be supplemented by the growth of good jobs in other sectors, especially services.