The rise of e-learning might just create the next generation of automation enthusiasts we need

By Canninah Mapena, Managing Director, Rockwell Automation Africa

Attending high school during a global pandemic is sure to be interesting, and perhaps a bit disappointing, for our teenagers. It’s all work and no play for many South African students, who are tasked with getting through their workload with minimal social and physical interactions. This means more and more online tutoring, virtual learning environments, and digital education tools. While the move away from traditional learning environments limits many interactive opportunities for students, it’s not all bad news.

E-learning, and online education in general, is not just about Zoom classrooms and emailing your homework. There are many amazing tools and platforms that our students are being exposed to which may just broaden their minds and imaginations instead of limiting them to their screens. It is my hope that greater exposure to new and different technologies will spur South African children’s interest in technology in general. Some students might be interested in going beyond using technology, and toward creating it. Better yet, perhaps there are some out there who feel their technology isn’t meeting their needs and might work towards improving it.

It is well understood that South Africa is facing a skills shortage, with students showing insufficient interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. Our country is not alone in this challenge. Our customers the world over are reporting concerns over the limited talent pool capable of fulfilling the new kinds of roles created by modern day manufacturing processes. Data scientists, automation specialists, process engineers, and programmers are in short supply.

While pretty much every teenager in South Africa has been exposed to smartphones, educational technology like 3D models and interactive learning games could encourage a deeper interest in technology.

However, to a large extent I feel that the industrial automation industry has the responsibility to create and shape the kind of workforce we need in the future. We should be promoting not just our own organisations, but the industry as a whole. We should help to inspire the next generation of innovators to fill the talent pipeline. This will be beneficial for our customers and for our companies too.

Rockwell Automation aims to instil a passion for science, technology, engineering, and maths in young students by making STEM exciting, fun, and well, cool. We believe that every child can be an engineer, scientist, or technology leader. These are our future creators, inventors, and innovators. To inspire students to pursue a career in STEM, we focus on a strong educational foundation, especially for young women and underrepresented groups.

We face a global workforce crisis. We need more students following a STEM path today so they can be the problem solvers of tomorrow. We collaborate with universities and non-profits to shape and offer classes, labs, hands-on learning, and events that prepare students for the sophisticated technologies employed in industry. When we foster diverse thinking, we help prepare those students for careers that evolve as fast as the technology itself.

I challenge you – the industry, our clients, our partners, and even our competitors – to meet us in the classroom. Help us make engineering cool and help build a sustainable industry which will offer longstanding jobs to South Africa’s youth.

To learn more about how we are making Smart Manufacturing more productive, visit

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