The week starting May 17, 2021 is innovation week. There are various aspects of innovation including in the technology space. Among the leading technological innovations are those in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR). Individually and combined, the technologies behind the FIR have many and far-reaching implications in virtually all spheres of life across the globe.
They are disruptive technologies that have, are and will radically and in unprecedented and exponential manner transform, move and shake all sectors of the economy and professions. Among the areas affected by these disruptive technologies is the labour market as partly outlined in this piece.
There have been three industrial revolutions before the FIR. Different technologies have been driving, moving and shaking each of these revolutions.
The transition from one industrial revolution to another has been a function of technological advancement and transformation. These advancements and transformations have been change makers. The change from one industrial revolution to another has been epochal rather than incremental change.
The first three Revolutions
The first industrial revolution is related to the use of water and steam power technology to mechanize production of goods and services. The second revolution is related to the discovery and use of electricity technology for mass production and by implication enjoyment and reaping of advantages of economies of scale. The third revolution has been driven by the discovery and use of electronics and information technology (IT) for automation of production processes and enjoyment of the many and far-reaching implications of this.
Since the middle of the 20th Century, the world has seen a transition to the FIR which is in its infancy stage and still taking shape.
Characterized by digitisation, the FIR is a digital revolution building on the third one. What is unique in it is its characteristic of a fusion of technologies related to the physical, digital and biological spheres. The revolution is characterized by disruption in virtually all industries across the world. It is transforming all production, management, governance and many other systems. The disruptive technologies of the FIR necessarily move and shake the labour market.
At the core of the FIR is technology. There are several new and advanced technologies that are driving the FIR. They include but are not limited to advanced robotics; artificial intelligence (AI) including machine learning; the Internet of Things (IoT); virtual and augmented reality; predictive analytics; autonomous vehicles including drones and cars; wireless connections; blockchain; nanotechnology; sensors and automatic identification as well as corporate wearables and additive manufacturing including three dimension printing. Other technologies include new materials, energy storage technologies, quantum computing, cloud computing, big data analytics, genetics and synthetic biology among others.
Implications for the labour market
The FIR technologies have, are and will have many and far-reaching potential and actual transformations and disruptive developments in the future of production and by extension in the labour market and future of jobs. The technologies are giving birth to jobs some of them with no names yet. However, among the most worried implications is loss of jobs thanks to highly capital intensive production techniques. The FIR is embracing modern, most up to date state of the art technologies.
Automation mainly through digitizing the knowledge economy is displacing labour. One is therefore likely to see increased unemployment. This will be the case for low skilled and repetitive low paying and low end jobs. The technologies can however create new jobs as well. These are mainly high technology, high skilled non-repetitive high end well-paying jobs. The net effect however is to have more jobs lost to automation than those created by it.
There is a need to prepare future-ready labour market entrants than preparing jobs-ready entrants. This is because the future of jobs is very unpredictable in times as these of disruptive technologies that move and shake the fourth industrial revolution. Contrary to Charles Darwin’s predictions, the future of the labour market belongs not to the fittest but to those with ability to adapt. Developing and using appropriate soft skills mix will be very important.
The kills include innovation, endurance, confidence, inter personal skills, inter- and multidiscplinarity, ability to work in teams as well as working individually, ability to challenge status quo and established authorities as well as moving from comfort zones. All these require life-long and life-wide learning. Social policies to protect those losing jobs to machines will be very important.
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