Industry 4.0 is Upon Us. Are Your People Ready?

There is talk, out there, of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. What does that mean, and how will it impact us?

To help us understand, here is the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) brief, chronological list of industrial revolutions:

1. Steam, water, mechanical production equipment. Year 1784

2. Division of labour, electricity, mass production. Year1870

3. Electronics, information technology, automated production. Year 1969

4. Cyber-physical systems. Year – imminent future.

If we aren’t already experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, we will be soon. It is characterized by the blending of the real world with technology. We already have examples of this floating on the fringes (and, in some cases, in the midst) of our work environments. Think Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). We have printers that can build three dimensional objects and devices that can program our homes. We can practice complex operations in an artificial environment before taking the risk in the real world. And we can learn in environments that simulate those we will have to work and help customers in.

With technology invading every part of our personal and professional lives, there is bound to be an impact. This crash of technology into our real world means change—a lot of it. In the midst of all this semi-controlled chaos and rapid change, people are expected to not only flex and adapt, but be productive in the process. Pretty much every business is being disrupted, affecting entire systems of production, management, and governance.

According to WEF, this revolution means those in leadership and management positions need to “upgrade” their competencies to keep up with technological changes. Business is demanding a Management 4.0 mindset, which most companies, and their leadership, are not ready to implement.

  • Workers will be profoundly affected as increased automation and artificial intelligence causes many jobs to disappear, and entirely new ones to come into existence. Managers will have to prepare their people by putting a focus on continual learning and diversity in teams, as well as developmental pathways to new jobs.

  • The cost of replacing workers with new employees who already possess desired digital skills will be too great. The competition in recruiting and hiring will mean many employers won’t get enough of the highly skilled people they seek.

  • Existing employees possess company knowledge that is very valuable. It makes sense to retain them, so training them for new jobs becomes a business imperative.

  • With all this focus on digital, it’s easy to forget about “soft skills”. In the Industry 4.0 environment, however, these skills (which I call “Power Skills”) are crucial. There is an increased need