Four ways 4IR will change work

Johannesburg, 08 Oct 2018

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR), which began as an initiative to combat challenges faced by the manufacturing sector, has grown to include almost every sector and is set to influence every conceivable aspect of business.

Technologies that are shaping the so-called Industry 4.0 (the industry emerging out of 4IR) include robotics, the Internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. While in a manufacturing context these technologies are shaping the 'factories of the future' (a Web of interconnected machines creating products that are pre-programmed, while all the time uploading process data, completely without the involvement of any humans), these same technologies are also constructing most other industries.

The role of big data in the fourth industrial revolution is critical. In fact, some argue that big data is the fourth industrial revolution.

Understandably, there are concerns that autonomous machines will increasingly take over tasks that humans have always performed, leaving many jobless. However, it seems more likely that many new jobs will be created as the power of data is harnessed and used in a meaningful way.

The sheer pace of these emerging technologies, with associated demographic and socioeconomic impacts, is rapidly transforming industries and business models, completely redefining the skills that employers need.

Four ways in which work will change in 4IR:

Why we work

For generations, grown-ups have asked children: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" In the future, the concept of a 'job-for-life' will be met with blank stares. Rather than asking what you want to be, the question will be: "What do you really enjoy doing?" This means learning will not only be lifelong in terms of skills, but also, at a deeper level, that learning will need to focus internally, to really understand ourselves.

This will be essential as 4IR is likely to impact our lives in how we communicate, how we produce, consume and even our identities. For this reason, it will be essential to understand why the work we do matters, what value it adds, especially in a world where automation and artificial intelligence is woven into every part of our lives.

What we do

Employees will have to adopt a life-long learning approach to work, upgrading skills continuously, either to ensure they remain at the cutting edge of their field or to keep pace with the technological advances unfolding across industries.

In fact, constant upskilling will be more important than work experience gained or tenure. Occupations traditionally regarded as technical will require additional skills in creativity and interpersonal skills. As the ecosystems in which they operate evolve, even jobs that are generally expected to be less affected by technological changes, such as marketing, are likely to require very different skillsets in just a few years from now.

How we work

Disruptions brought on by technology, such as machine learning and robotics, are likely to, rather than completely replacing existing occupations, substitute tasks previously performed as part of these jobs, freeing employees to focus on new tasks. A digital economy will drive new ideas, new information and new business models that are continuously expanding, combining and changing into new ventures and businesses.

Where we will work

The blending of physical and organisational boundaries will continue, requiring greater agility not just in innovation, but also operationally. Rather than being confined to a single space, work will be outcome-based, leveraging flexible arrangements as well as online talent platforms. Work will increasingly be understood as what people do, not where they do it.

This means businesses will collaborate with independent professionals and freelancers, often through digital talent platforms. It is likely that a new form of 'labour union' will emerge, which will require new policies, regulations and protections to newly emerging occupational categories and models of work.

Exactly what the world will look like in 20 or 50 years' time is still not clear, but the words of Klaus Schwab (Founder of the World Economic Forum) serves as a signpost to all of us. "The fourth industrial revolution can compromise humanity's traditional sources of meaning: work, community, family, and identity, or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. The choice is ours."


Editorial contacts

Frankie Roberts
(073) 912 3579