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The new revolution

The fourth industrial revolution has arrived and it is bringing massive threats and huge opportunities

‘Industry 4.0 is about the beginnings of the mechanisation of intellectual labour’

‘Industry 4.0 is about the beginnings of the mechanisation of intellectual labour’

 

Industry 4.0 – the popular term for the fourth industrial revolution – has the power to fundamentally alter the way in which companies make, distribute and sell their products and services. “If you look at the past 100 years of technological advance it has been about varying degrees of mechanisation of manual labour,” explains Ken Horan, industrial research lead with IMR, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland backed manufacturing research organisation. “Industry 4.0 is about the beginnings of the mechanisation of intellectual labour.”

This will have profound implications for jobs, or the jobs we know today at least. PwC director of people and organisation Gerard McDonough conjures up the image of a robot going down to the job centre and asking for the most boring and mundane job possible. “The boring and mundane stuff will be taken away and people are going to have to learn new things,”he contends. “Some people will rail against the system because they don’t like change. But it’s coming anyway.”

He believes there are steps that can be taken to help people to cope with the change, however. “Organisations can’t protect jobs but they can protect their people,” he says. “They can help them upskill by providing lifelong learning opportunities. Problem solving, creativity, improvisation, leadership; these things can’t be automated. We have to make sure people have these abilities before they get into the workplace and that might require changes to curriculums. In the future, success won’t be about the job you do, it will be about the bundle of skills you accumulate over time. If you pigeonhole yourself you will lessen your chances of success.”

“What we are going to find is that the most in-demand specialisms didn’t exist 10 years ago,” says Ruchi Arora, senior consultant with Willis Towers Watson talent and reward practice. “It is also going to make organisations think about how they get work done. Employment relations will change and there will be a fundamental shift in how companies organise themselves.”

While organisations are already used to outsourcing, they make much greater use of free agents and contract workers alongside traditional direct employment. The skills profile will also change. “All occupations have some scope for jobs within them to be automated,”Arora adds. “In the future, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, and creative thinking capacity will be much more important than they are today.”

State Street Global Exchange head of analytics Mark McKeon believes that the new revolution will create opportunities as well as challenges. “We are already seeing organisations employing new technologies to improve and enhance their capability and make them more effective. They will use the technologies to deliver new products, services and capabilities. Lot of things done manually now will be fully automated. This will enable organisations like State Street to deliver highly customised solutions to customers when and where they want them rather than in the batch format of today.”

Iconic Offices chief executive Joe McGinley also believes that Industry 4.0 will enable business to be more productive and help companies meet the demand from consumers for customised products. It will also have impacts on the workplace as well, however. “My own view is that companies will develop and improve technologies to give employees tools to enable them to work from wherever they want. We’ll definitely see tools that enable people to collaborate more effectively.”

But automation won’t replace the human touch. “I don’t see workspaces being stamped out and everyone working from home,” McGinley adds. “From a business perspective, we need to bring human beings together. A lot of the magic and secret sauce comes from people working together.”