Skills shift with fourth Industrial Revolution | Sunday Observer

Skills shift with fourth Industrial Revolution

7 October, 2018

With the introduction of new technology, skill in the workplace is significant and since the fourth industrial revolution, adoption of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) marks an acceleration over the shifts of even the recent past.

The requirement of skills, for instance, technological, social and emotional skills which are in demand as well as physical and manual skills, will drop at the modern workplace. These changes will require employees to develop their existing skill sets to the expected level or acquire new ones. Companies need to think how work is organised within their organisations with the latest technological changes.

How do workforce skills change with automation?

In the next 10 to 15 years, automation and AI technologies will transform the basic workplace and people will engage with smart machines. This technological transformation and human-machine interaction in the workplace is expected to bring numerous benefits such as higher productivity, quality of work, GDP growth, improved production performance, but this requires changes in the skills of human workers.

The demand for basic and advanced technological skills will increase in the workplace from 2020 to 2030. The advanced technologies require employees who understand how they work, can innovate, develop, and adopt to the new working environment. It is expected that advanced IT and programming skills will grow by at least 80% in the next five years. Since most of Sri Lankans are not technologically adapted, there is also a significant need for everyone, employer and employee, to develop the necessary digital skills for the new age of automation. Digital skills are the second fastest growing skills in Asian countries. As a result of the adoption of advanced technologies into the present workplace and people interacting with machines than before, the social and emotional skills need to be developed within the organisation and outside of it.

The relationship between digital technology and human emotion is no longer only a critical issue in the workplace. Social and emotional learning (SEL) and its application in education and the workplace will give tremendous assistance to develop the digital workplace. As both fields continue to grow, the question of how to apply technology towards SEL will no longer be a daydream for the future, but a growing reality with powerful implications required for the final outcomes.

There will be a shift in demand for higher cognitive skills as well. Cognitive skills are the core skills that the brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention. Demand for the cognitive skills, for instance, creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing, will be required in the modern workplace. The basic cognitive skills such as literacy, numeracy etc. will decline with the successful application of automation. However, basic data-input and -processing skills will be particularly affected until machines take over straightforward data-input tasks.

The largest category in the workforce is physical and manual skills. The need for these skills will continually decline with automation. The industry requirement for physical and manual skills has been falling for the last 10 to 15 years, and this decline will accelerate with automation.

The requirement of physical and manual skills will depend on the amount of work automated in the workplace. In countries like the USA, since the majority of work is already automated, the declining rate of physical and manual skills will be very low. But, in a country like Sri Lanka, most of the operations are still using physical and manual skills, the declining rate will be high from 2020 to 2030. In simple words, if we are unable to shift the skills, we will end up with high unemployment and will need to import the skilled labour.

How will organisations adopt?

Talent is not always where it’s needed and often cannot be found. Workforce shortages will have a high impact on the GDP of the country. Acquisition and retention of human capital is the top risk of all organisations. There is no debate; companies need to adopt to new technologies and this change will require the redesigned business model and a new focus on the skills for the expected transformation process.

Another adoption strategy is a continuous learning process and instilling a culture of lifelong learning throughout the organisation and business cycle. When employees adapt to the culture, they will change with the working culture changes and shift the skills as per the requirement of the organisation.

The employees in agile organisations, ignoring the traditional hierarchy entirely and decentralised power, can easily move with skill shift and the new culture while organisations will achieve for both stability and dynamism.

The top executives of most Asian countries do not have sufficient understanding of the technological breakthrough. Most of them believe that human resource is not a critical factor for the organisation, especially in this transformation process. Even if the current staff lacked sufficient understanding of technologies to lead the organisation, the proper training should be organised about how automation and AI change the working environment.

The retention of current employees is not a risk if teaching them a new or set of different skills is needed. These employees will have in-house functional knowledge, experience, and understanding of company culture etc. and they will be useful assets if proper training took place during the entire transformation process.

The re-development of employees is also a good strategy. Based on the skills capacity they already have, the re-development can be arranged in a changing workplace.

All of us need to address the issue of unemployment driven by technology including the basic needs of the human and identifying the new sources of income for citizens, as well as how underdeveloped countries respond to this situation, and which will increasingly struggle to catch up with the changes or end up with unexpected unemployment and GDP downturn. In the long run, they will need to create their internal markets to make the primary source of revenue.

- The writer is Head of Consultancy, National Institute of Business Management