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The Fourth Industrial Revolution Preparing the Workforce for the New World of Work

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Meeting Highlights: Post-school Access Community of Practice

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Preparing the workforce for the new world of work

Setting the scene

The world-of-work is changing, which raises important questions about how post-school education and training should prepare people for the new work environment.

Post-school education and training expert Suzanne Hattingh explored this topic at the BRIDGE Post-school Access Community of Practice on 12 October 2017.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The previous three industrial revolutions have been defined by the technological advances that enabled them, i.e. steam engines, electricity and computers. The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to advanced technologies that have the potential to radically change the way we work and live our lives.

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Some already existing examples of these disruptive technologies are the mobile internet, cloud computing, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles, renewable energy, 3-D printing, the automation of knowledge work, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and the internet of things.

While the impact of these technologies may be largely positive, the Fourth Industrial Revolution poses serious challenges for society, and the implications for education and skills development are significant.

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What makes the Fourth Industrial Revolution different from previous revolutions?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has so much potential to bring about change because it is driven by a fusion of the technologies, which multiplies possibilities and increases their impact. Its two main characteristics are:

  • the speed of change, as new technologies and the possibilities for using them evolve

  • the breadth and depth of change, as the new technologies significantly influence the global economy, the way businesses operate, the way goods are produced, and the way we live, learn, work, communicate and manage our environment.

VIDEO: [1:41]

How will the Fourth Industrial Revolution impact on work and organisations?

Emerging trends

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Advanced technologies are already changing the nature of work and organisations. Some trends we are already seeing include:

Globalization, where physical location is not important for many types of work (e.g. call centres, coding), and organisations can tap into talent anywhere in the world.

Mobility, where work is no longer a place you go to, but something you do. Many people work in virtual relation to the organisation/s they work for.

New behaviours, where people and organisation use new ways to communicate, collaborate, share, access information and create content. This is changing how work is structured and organised.

Changing demographics and the influence of millennials, who expect to work in ways that reflect their view of the world and how they interface with it.

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Organisations that respond to these trends by creating workplaces where people want to work instead of simply as places where people need to work will have more success in attracting and retaining talented individuals.

VIDEO: Five trends shaping the future of work


A range of further changes has been predicted:

The 2016 World Economic Forum report on the future of work anticipates widespread changes that will cause major disruptions to the labour market. Some of these are:

  • New kinds of work will open up, especially in technology, software development and social media.

  • Many existing occupations will either change markedly, or disappear.
  • People will do many different kinds of work during their working lives.
  • Employment will take the form of short duration “work opportunities” rather than long-term careers.
  • More people will work ‘remotely’, in their own space and time.
  • More work will be done teams of people with different skills, who work together temporarily and use virtual communication to collaborate.
  • Standardised, repetitive work is likely to be done by robots.
  • Artificial intelligence and advanced robotics will change the interface between humans and machines.

VIDEO: The 4IR and the future of jobs

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The World Economic Forum has published a number of reports on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its implications. Several reports focus specifically on the implications for Africa.

What are the implications of these changes for working people?

In addition to the actual technical and occupational skills needed for their job roles, people will also need a variety of personal skills and attributes to manage their working lives.

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  • People will need to have a range of skills (‘basket of skills’) that enables them to adapt to new work situations and multiple job changes.
  • Attributes such as creativity, adaptability and the ability to assess and evaluate situations will be critically important.
  • People who work in virtual employment relationships will need to be self-directed, resilient and able to manage themselves and their activities.
  • Lifelong learning will be essential for keeping up to date with new developments.

Impact on society

There is a real risk that the changes brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution will lead to massive disruptions in society.

  • Large-scale job losses will be a reality and unemployment can be expected to increase. In South Africa, low skill levels mean that there is a significant risk that people who lose their jobs to automation and the reorganisation of workplaces will not have the skills to benefit from opportunities created by new technologies.

  • We can also expect personal trauma and social unrest as employees struggle to cope with the uncertainty and instability of the new work environment.

What will society need to put in place to assist the millions of people affected in these ways?



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