Analysis: MUBANGA LUMPA
DURING his address to Parliament on September 15, 2017, President Edgar Lungu called for the transformation of service provision by both public and private sectors through the use of innovative Information and Communications Technologies (ICT’s).
Further, in 2015, Government launched the Smart Zambia Master Plan whose vision is to have a prosperous and globally-competitive and knowledge-based developed country. The smart Zambia agenda also entails embracing the use of information and communication technologies and innovation in the delivery of public services. Therefore, Government established the smart Zambia institute to spearhead the transformation of government operations into a smart government by also ensuring smart and easy accessibility on the communications platform.
This e-government initiative was reiterated by Finance Minister Felix Mutati during the 2018 national budget address delivered to the National Assembly on September 29, 2017 when he stated that “to improve ICT infrastructure, government will invest in, and upgrade telecommunications networks, data centres and access devices through the Smart Zambia Master Plan. This will improve the flow of information within and among Government institutions, enterprises and citizens to bring about social and economic benefits.” Mr Mutati further said “this is also aimed at transforming Government’s mode of delivery of public services from traditional face-to-face interactions to online channels to ensure that citizens and business entities can access services anywhere and anytime.”
This initiative by government to embrace the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other technological innovations in the delivery of public services should be seen as a move towards knowledge based economy which emphasises on intensive skills as a means of attaining production of goods and services. This concept of a knowledge economy is based on the view that information and knowledge are at the centre of economic growth and development. The ability to produce and use information effectively is thus a vital source of skills for many individuals (OECD, 2000).
However, the emergence of the knowledge economy which some scholars have partly attributed to globalisation and technological advances has ushered in a wide range of debate about the demand for higher levels of skills and competencies in the labour market.
Thus, from a labour market perspective, there is also an increased attention given to specific competencies such as the ability to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to solve problems, to work in teams, to supervise and lead and to undertake continuous learning in an organisation.
The knowledge-based economy is marked by increasing labour market demand for more highly-skilled workers, who usually enjoy higher wage premiums or wages. Studies in some countries show that the more rapid the introduction of knowledge-intensive means of production, such as those based on information and communication technologies, the greater the demand for highly-skilled workers. Other studies show that workers who use advanced technologies or are employed in firms that have advanced technologies, are paid higher wages. Thus, this labour market preference for workers who are highly skilled in handling systematised knowledge is having negative effects on the demand for less-skilled workers. There are therefore, concerns that these trends could exclude a large and growing proportion of the labour force with less skill from the knowledge and highly skilled-based economy and industry.
Therefore, the future of the labour market in the knowledge-based economy will be characterised by increasing demand for more highly-skilled workers. The knowledge-intensive and high-technology parts of many technological and knowledge-based developed economies tend to be the most dynamic in terms of output and employment growth. Changes in technology and particularly the advent of information and communication technologies are making educated and skilled labour more valuable while unskilled labour less so.
In this regard, government policies will need to emphasise on upgrading human capital through promoting access to a range of skills, especially the capacity by learners in universities and colleges in enhancing the knowledge distribution power of the economy through collaborative networks with the private sector and the diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and also providing the enabling environment for organisations to maximise the benefits of technology for productivity.
However, the low application of ICTs in many industries and organisations and inadequate skills among many workers and ordinary citizens are some of the challenges to the attainment of maximum benefits of ICTs for production. This can be addressed by putting in place appropriate technological policies at different organisational and national levels. In this way, the future focus for labour and employment should no doubt be towards the substantial investment in technology, including improved skills development in ICTs for workers in organisations. This will be the best way of ensuring efficiency and minimising the cost of production at organisational and national level.
Therefore, the move by Government towards a smart Zambia agenda entails that workers in both the public and private sectors will be required to have competent skills and education, continuous training and other technological literacy skills which will be the key principal competencies demanded in the knowledge economy. This is because such competencies and skills provide the specific technical skills required to survive and remain relevant as workers in the knowledge economy.
The author is a social commentator and blogger.