Are businesses ready for the fourth industrial revolution?

The new industrial revolution - careers in the 21st century

Over seven million of today’s jobs are expected to disappear by 2020, according to the World Economic Forum.

Many are calling it the fourth  industrial revolution; a digital transformation that will happen at such velocity and breadth that it will change the way we live and work.

In less than three years’ time, experts are predicting this fourth revolution will have occurred and it will severely disrupt the labor market. A range of new technology that combines “the physical, digital and biological worlds” will shape the revolution and will impact all economies and industries, says Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Schwab uses mobile supercomputing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, euro-technological brain enhancements and genetic editing as evidence of the dramatic change we can expect in the revolution. A lot of which, he says, is already currently all around us, and evolving at exponential speed.

Although Schwab explains the enormous potential of this fourth industrial revolution, arguing it can ultimately improve the efficiency of businesses and address current productivity problems, he also argues it  brings with it huge risks and challenges. Such risks include: organizations and people being unable or unwilling to adapt to these new technologies; governments failing to employ and regulate new technologies to capture their benefits; and the emergence of new security concerns.

However, a range of new jobs and skills will be required as the digital revolution takes hold, presenting great opportunities for people to upskill, and workforces to evolve.

No more jobs for life

Estimates suggest  that as many as 47% of US jobs are at risk from automation in the near future. And we’re not talking about factory jobs – these are roles like drivers, accountants, estate agents, and insurance agents. Employees of the future will be on a permanent skills quest, navigating their career path carefully to enable them to top up their knowledge and experience regularly to match the ever-changing business landscape.

Generation X will be most adaptable thanks to their existing mentality of wanting to try their hand at many different roles to see what suits them best; this generation is open to horizontal career moves to expand their skillset. Millennials too will fare well in the digital revolution as they highly value learning and development, and many as digital natives may already posses some of the new skills needed in the fourth industrial revolution.

For baby-boomers it could represent the ideal opportunity to enter the gig economy and pick and choose their hours as they start to look towards retirement.

An opportunity for employers

For employers, this represents an opportunity to help staff adapt and evolve to meet the challenges of the new industrial revolution – particularly as many organizations make moves towards becoming a People Company.

People Companies are organizations where company success is dependant on their workforce or people being successful. They proactively engage their workforces so that people can do their best work and be their most productive – rising to the challenge of the fourth industrial revolution.

Businesses that are seen to embrace the oncoming revolution in a positive way like this will be an attractive proposition for new recruits ensuring they get the pick of the talent, as well as boosting staff retention.

Furthermore, employers will need to identify what roles are going to be key for their business in three years’ time and what skill-sets they will require from their workforce. For example,  The Future of Jobs Report, predicts that in 2020 many occupations will require a higher degree of cognitive abilities such as creativity, logical reasoning and problem solving, while physical aptitude will be a declining requirement.

Having a realistic outlook

Even if the pace and breadth of this technological revolution doesn’t quite occur as the experts predict, it is safe to say that the modern world is moving fast and digital advancements will impact current jobs and working practices.

A shift in the types of skills and roles that will become more important will take place and it will become crucial for companies to manage employees’ expectations and help them evolve.

Is the fourth industrial revolution for real, and what will it mean for productivity levels? People Companies that provide an environment rich with development opportunities and a chance for people to upskill will thrive, if it does happen. If not, then they will certainly have nothing to lose by doing so. Only time will tell. Will your business take the gamble?

Find out more about how People Companies are preparing for the future. Download our infographic on the future of HR.


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