The critical need to focus on upskilling in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Last week, I was a panellist at an event organized by the American Chamber of Commerce, Singapore on the topic of “Future-Ready Workforce”. As suggested by a friend, I converted a part of my talk into this short post.
By now, you are probably aware that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) refers to the extraordinary era of technological progress we live in. These advances, like those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions, have changed the way we live, work and relate to one another. The 4IR has a profound impact in the way we look at a “Future-Ready Workforce” for many reasons. I want to highlight three main points:
1. Shifting Employment Patterns
Over the last 150+ years there has been a gradual shift of the workforce across the three primary sectors: Agriculture, Industry & Services.
If one overlays the employment trends with the advent of the industrial revolutions, we see that with Industry 1.0 and 2.0, mechanization and mass production led to a gradual shift in the deployment of labour from Agriculture to Industry and Services. Likewise, with the advent of automation and advanced connectivity in Industry 3.0 and 4.0, the shift towards service-oriented jobs has further accelerated.
While this redeployment of labour from Agriculture and Industry led to the growth of Services, the stark reality is that if there is a drop of employment in Services due to 4IR technologies, these jobs cannot all be moved back to Agriculture or Industry.
The challenge now is to create new Service jobs and have workers ready to move into these jobs.
2. Boundless Cognitive Capability
In the previous industrial revolutions, we have seen automation take away the drudgery of physical and repetitive jobs and the redeployment of humans towards cognitive roles. When we talk about “Cyber Physical Systems” in the context of the 4IR, we are referring to the confluence of technologies such as the Internet of Things, 5G, Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning with those that involve physical activities such as advanced and additive manufacturing.
These advances in computing and high speed connectivity now enable the automation of not just physical jobs but also automation and centralization of those that require a high degree of cognition.
If in previous industrial revolutions a machine could take over the task of, say 15 manufacturing workers in one physical location, 4IR technologies have the potential to disrupt all kinds of jobs including white collar jobs and sometimes entire professions. e.g. - highly sophisticated bots that have the potential to make call centres world-wide redundant. Upskilling and redeployment of impacted workers is therefore something that requires careful consideration.
3. The Shelf-Life Conundrum
Given the rapidly changing profile of work in the 4IR, the shelf-life of jobs is becoming shorter. We no longer live in a world where workers can perform the same tasks all through their career. In order to stay relevant one has to unlearn and relearn new skills on an ongoing basis.
This shortening shelf-life of jobs needs to be seen in the context of an increasing life span of humans and declining birth rate in many economies.
This necessitates individuals to stay employed longer to help them lead a dignified life post their active career. Therefore, upskilling is imperative for workers in every phase of their career - be it at the entry level or in their prime.
The threats posed to society and workers from the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are significant. Preparing humans to deal with these challenges require targeted interventions that work to gradually upskill individuals.
If we do not innovate and respond to these challenges, we could potentially be facing a Techno-Socio-Demographic Tsunami - one we have never seen before.
These are trying times. However, I hope each of us can take some time to reflect on these points from a long-term perspective and do what we need to do within our own sphere of influence. Stay safe!
This blog was originally published as an article in LinkedIn.
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