SAT 24 - 8 - 2019
Mar 28, 2018
The Daily Star
Reskilling for the fourth Industrial Revolution
We are witnessing the beginning of the fourth Industrial Revolution, which will greatly influence the way we live, communicate and work. This time, its velocity, scale and scope are higher than ever before, so the impact it will have on humanity is currentlyunclear.
Every industrial revolution has strategically transformed the way we live and work while bringing benefits and challenges to countries’ socio-economic statuses.
With the invention of the commercial steam engine, the first Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production, transforming communication and transportation, which in turn spurred other industrial innovations.
The second Industrial Revolution, starting with the invention of telephone, which transformed communication, used electrical power to enable mass production.
The third used electronics and information technology to automate production, with the internet being key in changing the world economic landscape into one characterized by greater collaboration.
Now a fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as “Industry 4.0,” is related to smart innovation. It builds upon the third digital revolution and is driven by a combination of technologies that blur the lines between physical, digital and biological scopes.
In the previous industrial revolutions, the speed of technological growth was the key to their success. With the fourth Industrial Revolution, growth is expected to rise exponentially in terms of technical change and socio-economic impact. In fact, the effects of this new Industrial Revolution, what will unfold and how are still unclear. What is certain is that it is here and we need to be ready. Coping with it and responding to its transformations requires a comprehensive approach that involves innovative and ecological system solutions (not just technological ones) and includes all stakeholders of the global community, from public and private sectors to civil society and academic spheres.
The 2018 World Economic Forum featured two developments winning the attention of world leaders: the fourth Industrial Revolution and the “reskilling revolution,” in terms of what the future will look like and whether we are prepared for it.
Most directly impacted by the new revolution is the workforce. The way we work, the skills needed to acquire in jobs and the types of career paths are rapidly changing. Working for many years at a single job is becoming rare.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time a worker spends employed in any one job is 4.2 years. In addition, the number of skilled workers needed in any industry will have changed by 2020.
These transformations, led by technological innovations, changes in demographics, shifts in business models, business value creation and work allocation, call for different skills in the labor market. Given that most education systems are still not adapting to the new labor demand, there is an urgency for a reskilling revolution. Reskilling should not just be the responsibility of the individual, but also of businesses and governments.
As jobs become automated, replacing humans with artificial intelligence and robotics, workers need to acquire skills that enable them to face this permanent market change. This does not simply involve technology but rather “navigational skills” that as Barbara Dyer, executive director of Good Companies Good Jobs Initiative at MIT said, enable them to continuously move through a rapidly transitioning economy.
Among these navigational skills are the four Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Above all, people need to acquire a “habit” of permanent learning to secure not only their place in the labor force of the new era but also an adequately evolving career path allowing rewarding job transition opportunities.
For businesses, relying only on new workers with the right ready-made skills will no longer be sufficient. Investment in reskilling and upskilling will surely benefit them in developing the capacity that benefits their businesses, notably in roles that would otherwise remain unfilled.
As for government, adopting continuous reskilling and lifelong learning will close the skills gap and bring higher returns on investment by facilitating inclusive economic growth and ensuring that businesses find workers with the skills needed to help them succeed and contribute to the economy and society.
In the end, as Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum said, “it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them.”
“Industry 4.0” offers vast possibilities as it entails as many uncertainties as prospects. It can dehumanize our existence by “robotizing” humanity and thus divesting our hearts and souls. But it can also boost humanity into a new collective and moral realization, unleashing the distinctive part of human nature: creativity.
Dima El-Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2018, on page 3.
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