Professor Pieter Steyn

Principal and Founder | Cranefield College

Africa Live: With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, do you believe African businesses are flexible enough to become virtual learning centres?

Prof Steyn: Unfortunately, the mindset is not there yet. African institutions are not the only ones grappling with this problem; you will be surprised to learn that even American industries are in the same boat. 

The issue is that most managers and leaders still have a second industrial revolution mindset. It’s not all doom and gloom though, managers on the African continent are slowly beginning to warm up to new technologies and processes once they see the potential benefits.

Africa Live: How should future African organisations be managed and how can your programmes impact those outside South Africa?

Prof Steyn: Being a distance learning institution, we reach students all over the world, so our impact is felt far and wide. Future African organisations must embrace super transformational leadership. This approach calls for a shift from micromanaged control, to the trust and support approach.

Leaders will have to embrace integrity, competency, consistency, and openness. This kind of leadership will not only encourage cohesion amongst teams but also collaborative innovation. The fourth industrial revolution will involve working with virtual networks of partners, and this will call for leaders to give their teams autonomy. This is a world of difference compared to the second industrial revolution way of management.

Africa Live: What is the difference between programme management and project management, and why should leaders pay attention to both?

Prof Steyn: You cannot understand programme management if you don’t understand project management principles and techniques. Project management involves processes that occur at the operational level such as product development, order fulfilment, and manufacturing flow management. Programme management, on the other hand, is done at the strategic level and involves making decisions that prioritise the organisation’s strategic interests. The two are intertwined, and leaders must pay attention to both.

Africa Live: What will be the consequences for African businesses that don’t implement these processes?

Prof Steyn: There will be dire consequences because the industries that don’t will be pushed out of the market by those that will. Industries can benefit greatly by listening to young people who have the necessary competencies.

Africa Live: Africa is not seen as a producer of original research, what is your institution doing to change this narrative?

Prof Steyn: Being members of the Lance Living Lab, which has fourth industrial revolution competencies, we are looking to set up competency centres in South Africa. 

We are quite pleased to have masters and doctorate students who are working on fourth industrial revolution research whose findings will constitute original research. This will benefit not only South Africa but also the rest of the continent.

Africa Live: How can Cranefield College play a role in fostering a culture of intra-African partnerships?

Prof Steyn: We have been in contact with several African institutions of higher learning, one of them being Stellenbosch University. They have an impressive robotics programme over there which has the potential to change the entire African industrial landscape. 

We have a role to play in convincing African governments that technology will not take away jobs but will instead create more jobs. 

Our people must understand the spectrum of mechanistic and organic institutions. People who work in mechanistic institutions do repetitive work which they don’t enjoy. Robots can come in handy here as people transition to organic institutions.

Africa Live: How confident are you about the future of African education in light of the fourth industrial revolution?

Prof Steyn: I am confident, but I must say that a lot depends on our politicians. They must clean up their act and become role models who place a strong emphasis on education and training. We must also have ethical leaders in both the public and private sectors so that future African education can thrive.

Africa Live: What does success look like for your institution in the next five years?

Prof Steyn: Success for me will be churning out more and more students that go out there and become captains of industry. Our graduates are already prospering, and that to me is so gratifying.