Is L&D prepared for the 4th industrial revolution?

by Brett Henebery13 Mar 2017
At the 46th World Economic Forum (WEF) last year, chairman, Klaus Schwab defined the fourth industrial revolution as a “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.

Alarmingly, Schwab predicted that the fourth industrial revolution will make 7.1 million jobs disappear and create 2 million jobs in the next five years.

But where are these 7.1 million jobs going?

In short, most of these jobs are likely to be replaced by automation – and it is prospect that has the L&D profession sitting up and taking notice.

As the advent of robotics transforms various industries, the advent of enhanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to supercharge what machines are capable of doing.

Understandably, this makes many workers in the profession of manufacturing, science and even retail very nervous.

According to the WEF’s Future of Jobs report, the impact of these coming changes will be felt in transformations to skills requirements, resulting in substantial challenges for recruiting, training and managing talent.

“Not anticipating and addressing such issues in a timely manner over the coming years may come at an enormous economic and social cost for businesses, individuals and economies and societies as a whole,” the report stated.

The report also found that business leaders are aware of these looming challenges but have been slow to act decisively.

Just over two thirds of the report’s respondents said future workforce planning and change management featured as “a reasonably high or very high” priority on the agenda of their company’s or organisation’s senior leadership.

However, a major global study paints an even starker picture for human learners when it comes to their organisation’s priorities.

A major global study by Korn Ferry has made the startling discovery that the majority of CEOs place more value on their organisation's technology and tangible assets than on their workforce.

Among the significant findings was that 63% of CEOs believed that in five years, technology would be their business's greatest strength in terms of gaining a competitive advantage.

In addition, 67% believed that in the future technology would represent greater value than people to a business, while 44% said that the growing use of robots, automation and artificial intelligence would make people “largely irrelevant” in the workplace of the future.

However, as an L&D Professional article last week pointed out, the challenges associated with the emergence of AI also present learners with unique training opportunities.

Daniel Serfaty, founder of the human-centred engineering firm Aptima and a pioneer in simulation science, says that eventually, AI will enable everyone to have “a personal learning partner” to enhance on-the-job performance.

“The ability to tailor individual training to the individual is the next great step in the evolution of training technology,” he said.

But the question is: how relevant will human learners be to organisations by the time that the “evolution of training technology” truly ramps up?