What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution to HR?

Before we dive in to how the fourth industrial revolution is going to change the face of HR, let us first discuss what an industrial revolution represents, and how we are already up to the fourth iteration!

Now, in general, a technological revolution refers to any significant change in “the material conditions of human existence [that] can reshape culture.” In general, it is associated with a series of changes—either material or ideological—after the introduction of a new device or system. To date, Western culture recognizes several major revolutions, including the financial-agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, the second industrial revolution (a.k.a. the technical revolution), and the scientific-technical revolution. Currently, we are in the midst of the information and telecommunications revolution—which is also known as the digital revolution or third industrial revolution, and focuses primarily on the fact that we’re all face down in our screens for a good portion of the day!

But beware, there’s a new industrial revolution on the horizon. The term, which was first coined by Klaus Schwab, and was the theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum, of which Schwab is president, refers to technologies that combine hardware, software, and biology—collectively known as cyber-physical systems. Furthermore, this era is expected to be marked by additional advances in communication and connectivity, as well as the breakthroughs in emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, fifth-generation wireless technologies, 3D printing, self-driving vehicles, and the Internet of Things.

While the World Economic Forum recognizes the potential for these advances, the organization warns that it will not be without complications as it is already “forcing us to rethink how countries develop, how organizations create value, and even what it means to be human.” With such far-reaching potential implications, how can HR prepare for these changes?

Put a Positive Spin on It

Increased computerization would render 47% of U.S. jobs at risk in 2030, suggested by a 2013 study from Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. Therefore, one of the biggest roles for the HR executive lies in assuaging the concerns of workers who think there is a pink slip in their not-to-distant future. With this in mind, it is imperative for workers not to feel that their jobs are at risk. HR can help here by showing them how emerging technologies may one day be used to help them augment their current role, making it either more efficient or even potentially elevating it beyond what it currently looks like. As part of this, HR should work with executives to develop career pathing, such as training opportunities to help employees upskill and/or advance through the company.

Need more positive spin? The World Economic Forum reported in 2018 that while new devices and systems would displace around 75 million jobs by 2022, they would create 133 new roles, resulting in a total net gain of 58 million jobs.

Unskilled Doesn’t Mean Unusable

Oftentimes, when we think about automation of job processes, we think about the folks lowest on the totem pole: the ones who provide so-called unskilled or low-skilled labor. While the emergence of robots may spell the end for factory assembly line workers, for example, it paves the way for a whole new industry to emerge in the form of the assembly lines for data. Indeed, a robot or data system is able to perform a certain task, but only after it has been shown how to perform the task CORRECTLY over and over again. And who oversees this input of correct data? A human of course! While this will certainly require a shift in skill type, it’s nonetheless a manageable change that most employees—given the correct training—could accommodate.

Start Thinking About Soft Skills

We know that robots may be able to do rote jobs quicker or more efficiently than their human counterparts. However, there are distinct skills and traits that they simply aren’t capable of possessing. These so-called soft skills include analytical thinking, innovation, originality, creativity, and initiative, critical thinking, complex problem solving, emotional intelligence, reasoning, leadership, and influence. While some of these skills originate from talent, if a person is open and amenable to learning, they can be taught and cultivated—and this will pay off for your organization now and long after the robots take over! Again, Abel can help you create a program to help draw these skills out, so just reach out and ask us how you can get started.

Rethink Your Culture

Technology is fast-moving and life-changing. If your organization is resistant to change, you’re going to find the next five, 10, even 20 years super uncomfortable! Instead, as an HR rep, you should spend the coming years preparing your company to be more receptive to—and even excited about—change and transformation. To establish such an environment, the HR rep—or an outside person hired by the company to handle these matters—should be poised to create a culture that fosters open communication, transparency, and flexibility. We recognize that fostering these behaviors isn’t a change that can happen overnight, but a good Professional Employer Organization (PEO), such as Abel, can help to implement a plan for transforming your corporate culture that includes goal setting, multiple trainings for every level of your organization, and continued support when navigating tricky changes.

Let It Play a Role in HR Tasks

While we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how you should guide your employees to accept—and accommodate—new technologies and systems into their lives, it would be remiss to suggest that there isn’t room for artificial intelligence (AI) in the HR field. Indeed, AI and various screening tools can be used to streamline your recruiting process, allowing you to cast your virtual “help wanted” ad to broader, and yet more skilled, audiences to ensure that you are snagging top talent and even to provide you with the data that you need to ensure that your new candidate has the characteristics identified as being essential to their future success in the role. Furthermore, HR can leverage analytics in other ways to help guide the direction of your business, including using big data to inform workplace decisions, best manage productivity, and even identify knowledge or skills gaps that might be holding you back. In short, there are plenty of opportunities for HR reps to embrace these new technologies and doing so will make them a role model and leaders in the company.

There’s no denying that the fourth industrial revolution is going to be a huge undertaking, but Abel is here to help usher you through this big change, and every change thereafter.