The Future of Employment in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Era
Updated: Feb 19
Technology has always helped people improve the quality of their life. The technological development had seen a rapid acceleration since the beginning of the 18th century with the start of the industrial revolution. There had been three industrial revolutions in the past two centuries that had transformed our life. They made a significant impact on the economy and society through major changes in the people's jobs. In each industrial revolution, there were some types of jobs that were created while other jobs had disappeared. This had a direct and immediate impact resulting in high unemployment rate; however, the unemployment rate had seen a decline in the long-term when people adapted to the new types of jobs through training and education.
We are currently witnessing the 4th industrial revolution or "Industry 4.0". The main features of this industrial revolution are Robotics, Artificial Intelligent, Internet of Things, Big Data, and other technologies that are currently rising. Similar to the other previous industrial revolutions, there are many types of jobs that are currently declining while other new jobs are being created. However, these changes in the employment market are happening very rapidly unlike changes in the past. This creates many challenges for the workforce to keep updating with the rapid change in the industry. The new technology that is currently being developed is threatening not only low skilled jobs, such as bus drivers and factory works, but rather highly skilled jobs like legal counsel and administration staff.
According to several studies, it is expected that the next generation of universities’ graduates will face real difficulties to find jobs. The advancement in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data had resulted in the development of computer systems and apps that capable of performing some analytical and administrative tasks that were used to be conducted by entry-level jobs. This has removed millions of jobs that were necessary for universities’ graduates to enter the industry and develop their practical skills.
On the other hand, the new technology has helped to create millions of new jobs and opportunities. There are currently some jobs that were used to in the last 10 to 20 years. Some countries have benefited from the advancement in technology to grow its economy. In India for example, there is a growing middle class, thanks to the booming IT industry that a lot of jobs for the young generation. Some African countries, such as Ethiopia and Ghana, have seen large economic growth in the recent years due to the growing industrial sector in those countries. It would not be possible for those countries to develop their industries without the technology that had become easily available unlike the situation in the past. One of the examples that can be seen in Africa rapid development of the telecommunications that help increase the networking between people in urban areas and the countryside. In Kenya for example, telecommunication allowed for the increase in the trade of goods and services to a larger scale, due to the convenience of money through mobile phone system, which has resulted in booming the economy of the country.
Newly created jobs require some efforts of study and training, which has always been a necessity for developing the needed skills. However, due to the rapid technological development and the fast transformation in the job market, it is becoming much harder for employees and jobs’ seekers to adapt to the requirements of the job market. So how we can deal with such fast-changing job market and get adjusted to the new generated jobs of this era?
It is critical to point out that the educational system supposes to equip the students with necessary skills and knowledge demanded by the job market. There have been tremendous efforts from governments and organizations to continually keep improving the educational system based on the current development. Moreover, universities and higher educational institutes are trying to bridge the gap between them and the working environment. Most of the scholars and experts agree that education should focus more on skills development rather than accumulating knowledge. The advanced development of the internet networks and smartphones had made almost any kind of knowledge or information on the palm of the hand. Moreover, keep ourselves updated with the development in the job markets, it becomes highly necessary to education as continues process during our life, as learning for life. It will become inappropriate to consider that graduation from school or university as the end of the educational process.
The soft skills, such as communication and critical thinking, are becoming necessary for current and future job. One of the studies has suggested that learnability, the ability self-learning, will become one of the primary skill to survive in such a fast developing working environment. Moreover, due to the complexity of the new system and the ever-increasing globalization, the across cultural and disciplines skills has become highly requirement for many of the future’s jobs.
The principle of learning for life could be achieved in several ways and methods. The vast availability of online courses, MOOC, and short courses at universities have made it easier for everyone to learn something new at any moment during their career. The advantages of taking short courses during the period of the career are the ability to directly implement the knowledge and skill gained in the working environment. Professor Joseph Aoun, from Northeastern University, has described the future method of learning in his book "Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence". He proposed that the process of education should not be linked to a specific time duration or age. Instead of going to university for a 4 years period, the university study could be accomplished within a period of 20 to 30 years. During this extended period, the person will deal with the university as part-time work while working as an employee in a company. This will allow removing the barriers between the university and the industry allowing for direct implementation of knowledge to working tasks, in addition to that, the focus of study will aim at more practical problems in the working environment rather than theoretical studies. Another method proposed in the book is to consider going back to university after spending some years working in the industry. Implementing such a method will give the ability for young students to closely interact with older colleagues who had real practical experiences in the industry. This will provide the opportunity for the young generation to learn from the elder generation during the duration of the university period which is a great additional learning value.
The future is unpredictable. Many scientists and experts believe that robots will take most of the jobs in the industry leaving the vast majority of people facing poverty and unemployment. If we are going toward such a future, how could human society survive without facing total social collapse? Many economists see the Universal Basic Income (UBI) as the only option to keep the economy running. The implementation of the UBI system provides some hope for a better future, where robots will do all the boring jobs leaving humans to focus on doing the things that they love.
" I believe in a future where the point of education is not to prepare you for another useless job, but for a well lived" Rutger Bergman, Journalist and Author
Some philosophers believe that our definition and view of employment in the future will total change. Jobs will not be related to the financial earnings, instead jobs linked to doing something useful like taking care of your children or volunteering to help other people. Some experts see the current warning of rising unemployment danger as no difference from previous industrial revolutions in the past. It could be a matter of time before things stabilize and things goes back to normal situation. Therefore, we shouldn’t be worrying about the future, and have some faith in more prosperous promising future.