Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

"The gap between the digital, physical and biological worlds is shrinking, and technology is changing faster than ever."1

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has become a known and lived reality as technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT) merge with the physical lives of humans.2

The latest revolution is bringing disruption to major labour markets – displacing certain jobs through automation, while also creating new workplace categories. The World Economic Forum notes in the ‘2018 Future of Jobs Report’ that there are four specific technological advances that are driving market transformation:3
  1. High-speed mobile internet
  2. Artificial intelligence
  3. Global adoption of big data analytics
  4. Cloud technology
The report reveals that nearly 50% of companies expect automation to lead to a reduction in their full-time workforce by 2022. By comparison, 38% of businesses surveyed expect to extend their workforce to new productivity-enhancing roles, and more than a quarter expect automation to lead to the creation of entirely new roles.4

The Fourth Industrial Revolution may challenge our existing ideas of life and work, with the aim of improving the quality of both. Workplaces are becoming ‘smarter’ and more efficiency-driven as humans and machines learn to work together; connected devices are enhancing supply chains and logistics, ultimately impacting on economic growth and technological advancements. It’s the scale, scope, and size of this movement that is significantly different.5

The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

McKinsey predicts that digital work could contribute $2.7tn to global GDP by 2025, making technological innovation even more appealing.6 As automation progresses, so do our workplaces and the larger labour market.

There are four areas within the working world that will be impacted most by this automated shift:7
  1. Technological. Existing technological industries will experience profound shifts with the advancement of AI, robotics, and IoT.
  2. Economic. A focus will need to be placed on small and medium-sized businesses, as they learn to navigate the technological changes. It is these businesses who fuel global economies.
  3. Social. Technology will directly impact social values, such as work flexibility, autonomy, and income. Forbes predicts that by 2027, more than half of American workers will be freelancing. Working from anywhere, at any time, is now a realistic, and tempting alternative.
  4. Education. Workers now need to learn ‘on-demand’ skills for an agile, changing role and workplace. Shorter, skills-based training has started replacing older, longer curriculum-styled development.
Viewing these industry transformations from a holistic perspective, the largest shift is the move towards autonomy. As networks are built, they will grow to independently run themselves, with the aim of becoming smarter over time.8 Roles are indeed changing and shifting, with the average task hours performed by humans predicted to be 58% and 42% performed by machines.9 These shifts don’t necessarily equate to job losses. On the contrary, 133 million additional new roles may emerge.

How to prepare the workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

As with any transformative change, it does have its challenges. Deloitte has noted that the demographic most affected by the revolution are the 1.8 billion global youth between the ages of 15 and 29.10 In order to navigate this change, business leaders need to address four primary challenges within the context of youth workforce development:11
  1. Leaders and stakeholders need to reimagine the Fourth Industrial Revolution as an opportunity, not a threat.
  2. Disconnected programmes need to be repositioned as a system-wide, unified set of approaches.
  3. Organisations need to realign for both scale and impact, rather than scale versus impact.
  4. Possibilities need to be reframed for the marginalised youth, with particular attention paid to women and girls.
Before organisations can individually start implementing workforce strategies for a new working era, business leaders, policy-makers, labour unions, employees, and educators will need to gain a comprehensive understanding of the new labour market.12 Strategic preparation depends on the total acknowledgement of the looming changes.

The ‘2018 Future of Jobs Report’ identifies a number of key factors to consider within business strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution:13
  1. Map the scale of job change underway, while identifying the emerging and declining job roles.
  2. Identify opportunities to use new technologies to augment human work and improve job quality.
  3. Keep note of the progression of job-relevant skills.
  4. Explore the potential for investment in retraining, upskilling, and workforce transformation.
Along with upskilling, learning totally new skills will become a crucial part of workforce development. To match the scale, scope, and size of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, training will need to maintain the pace. The new working landscape is experiencing a demand for hybrid roles.

The call for hybrid skills

Linear career paths are dissolving as Generation Z integrates into the workforce. Gallup found that 21% of millennials have changed jobs in the last year, which is three times more than non-millennials.14 Burning Glass defines hybrid jobs as combining, “skill sets that never used to be found in the same job, such as marketing and statistical analysis, or design and programming”.15 Hybrid roles will enhance workplace diversity, employee potential, and individual outputs.16 Fluid careers will see a multitude of skills, roles, and workplace experiences. This shift is indicative of the rapid pace and dynamic progression of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or more specifically, how technology is influencing the demand within jobs.

The dynamic nature of the modern labour market provides opportunities for change, improvement, and quality. It provides a space for agility – where learning new skills is no longer an encouragement, but an imperative. Although the changing nature of careers may be overwhelming for most, workforce development along with the technological revolution, will make it increasingly accessible to adapt.

Read more about the changing workplace, workforce, and work skills in this article.

1 Schulze, E. (Jan, 2019). ‘Everything you need to know about the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Retrieved from CNBC.
2 Schulze, E. (Jan, 2019). ‘Everything you need to know about the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Retrieved from CNBC.
3 (2018). ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2018’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
4 (2018). ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2018’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
5 Schwab, K. (Jan, 2016). ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
6 (Dec, 2017). ‘Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation’. Retrieved from insights/future of organizations/what the future of work will mean for jobs skills and wages/mgi-jobs-lost-jobs-gained-report-december-6-2017.ashx McKinsey.
7 Hinton, S. (Oct, 2018). ‘How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is impacting the future of work’. Retrieved from Forbes.
8 (Dec, 2018). ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: the rise of the autonomous economy’. Retrieved from Medium.
9 (2018). ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2018’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
10 (Sep, 2018). ‘Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
11 (Sep, 2018). ‘Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
12 (2018). ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2018’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
13 (2018). ‘The Future of Jobs Report 2018’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
14 Adkins, A. ‘Millennials: The Job-Hopping Generation’. Retrieved from Gallup. Accessed 27 Mar, 2019.
15 (2019). ‘Hybrid jobs’. Retrieved from Burning Glass Technologies.
16 Lewis, S. (Sep, 2018). ‘Are you ready for the hybrid career phenomena?’. Retrieved from Medium.

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Read more: Deloitte, McKinsey