Industry 4.0: Automation and the Future of Jobs

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Telecommuting, hot desks, and beanbag chairs are all the rage for the new, tech-fueled workforce, but amidst the comforts of our digital reality, many still fear displacement-by-robot. 

While the international community makes plans to counteract possible flukes, there is no doubt the fourth industrial revolution is already settling into a wide range of industries and departments. However, one burning question remains. Will it work? 

Let’s take a look. But first: what is industry 4.0?

What do we mean by Industry 4.0? 

Industry 4.0 (also called the fourth industrial revolution) is the follow-up to our third industrial revolution, which was marked by the dot com boom. Now, concepts like the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation are giving way to a new kind of workforce. Thus, experts believe society is facing a new industrial revolution, one that will change the fabric of our society and our labor market. 

Technology vs. talent 

Worries and lost sleep over the “will robots take my job” question  aside, the efficiency and convenience afforded by technology are clear advantages of the 21st century. The fact is, most – if not all –  of us would gladly hand off our most rudimentary tasks to an automated software. That’s where robotic process automation comes in.  

Exponential growth is fantastic for revenue, but it can also result in even bigger piles of information to be filed and higher volumes of simultaneous customer calls. And while an easy “fix” would mean hiring more people, positive in the sense that it’s creating a job, that is not where the industry 4.0 wants to take us. 

In the albeit utopian version of Industry 4.0, workers are meant to be relieved from menial tasks and elevated to positions requiring those human capabilities a computer can’t emulate. Critical thinking, creativity, people management, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence are some of the essential skills necessary to thrive in the digital age. The bigger reality is that these are inherent talents; muscles we’ve been exercising within and beyond the office that, when given the chance to be used and fostered, would result in an enriching experience. 

Industry 4.0: not without its problems 

However, that doesn’t mean automation is without flaws, and most of them are found within its implementation. Historically, industrial revolutions have been unilateral phenomena taking place in rich economies where each government was responsible for regulating its own evolving workforce. 

For Industry 4.0, the new wave can arrive through any computer or smart device to anywhere in the world with enough bandwidth. We see it in our industry: mobile wallets are reaching rural communities faster than formal banking and migrant workers using electronic remittances to support their families.  We also see it in our daily lives, where we can now use our mobile phones to control our household appliances and find most of our information online. We can work for a British company while living in Argentina, and we can read The New Yorker from India without anyone having to ship us a copy. 

While a clear win for innovation and globality, the fourth industrial revolution will now need the guidance of international entities. Local governments will also need to make choices based not only on the interests of their constituents but on the wellbeing of our global society. 

But while Industry 4.0 arrives and grows roots, what jobs can be automated? And what are we, as members of the workforce, supposed to do? 

Redefining the 21st-century worker 

Yes, many jobs will be automated, but many others will be created, too. Raconteur proposed three ways to prepare for the jobs Industry 4.0 will create. 

The first is keeping a flexible and open mind. As we mentioned above, this is the time to let our human skills shine. Those aspects that make you a good friend, an excellent public speaker, or a mindful parent are the same abilities that will help you shine at work. All you need to do is approach new challenges with patience and resolve. Adapt to the industry’s needs as they arise as you have adapted to your company and your customer’s needs. 

The second is looking at how technology can augment your skills. Be optimistic about what new software can do for you, how automation can ease your workload, or how technology can make you or your product better. Make technology an ally. 

Last but not least, focus on transferable skills to help you grow in any or many environments. This is sound advice, regardless of industrial revolutions. Being able to apply your skills to different tasks is what turns an assistant into a manager and what enables cross-departmental collaboration and horizontal growth. 

So, keep calm and remember: the world is your digital, automated oyster. 

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