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Adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

May 19, 2021

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0, was coined as a term in 2011 by German engineer, economist and Founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by new technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds. Klaus Schwab has written that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) "is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another." 

Before this industrial revolution, there were three others and each one has been defined by great technological progress that has drastically reshaped much of the world. The steam engine and steam power brought about the First Industrial Revolution. The Second Industrial Revolution came with the rise of mass production using electric power. The Third Industrial Revolution was driven by electronics, computers and digital information technology that automated processes. The Fourth Industrial Revolution expands on advances from the previous revolutions but is very different in its scale, scope, and complexity. 

Digital transformation and progress in the biological sciences have accelerated at an unprecedented rate as new technologies have emerged — artificial intelligence, machine learning, genetic engineering, virtual reality, advanced robotics, IoT, quantum computing, and so on. These transformative technologies are unlike anything we've experienced before and the cyber-physical connections of some of these breakthroughs are capable of changing every aspect of life as we know it, from our private communications and public governance to how we organize civil society and even our experience of reality.   

Major Changes Spurred by the Fourth Industrial Revolution  

Jobs Displacement

Each industrial revolution has created new jobs, while other jobs have become obsolete. This was especially true in the Third Industrial Revolution when more and more processes were being automated by new computerized tools. Instead of needing employees to make products, companies needed employees to run the machines that make products.

Nonetheless, job displacement and socioeconomic inequality in Industry 4.0 are major concerns. However, most experts agree that while there will be a major transformation in the labor market and many workers will be displaced, many more new jobs will be created. Along with changes in education and training, many employers are upskilling employees to prepare them for new tasks and responsibilities. However, 4IR jobs are unlikely to be plentiful for low-skill/low-pay workers. Low-skilled laborers will almost certainly find themselves in a precarious position while high-skill/high-pay workers will derive new opportunities from rapid technological change as in past paradigm shifts.  

Economic Boost 

Over the last decade, digital transformation has had a significant economic impact. It has changed the face of manufacturing, supply chain, production and more. Consumers' demand for the latest, best, fastest products on the market is at an all-time high. Technological advances such as robotics, automation and IoT have made it easier and faster to create these products. Innovations in manufacturing, like smart factories, have made the industry more efficientreducing downtimes, increasing productivity and automating timely processes. 

Furthermore, because more consumers want products at a faster rate, supply chains have been transformed. Innovations in Supply Chain Management (SCM) such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which is used to identify and track products, have made supply chains more efficient while improving customer service and customer experiences. All of these factors contribute to increased revenue for companies, increased salaries and increased consumer spendingall of which boost the economy. 

Globalization 4.0  

Many experts agree that this age of disruption is driving a new phase of globalization— Globalization 4.0. New technologies have made it easier and faster to transport people, goods and information across borders. Additionally, supply chain breakthroughs have made it easier for companies to outsource processes internationally, enabling them to operate more cheaply and efficiently, thereby expanding their global presence.

The Rise of Sustainability 

As we are experiencing the long-term environmental effects caused by previous revolutions, sustainability is becoming increasingly important to consumers and businesses. Globally, we are becoming more cognizant of adverse business impacts on the environment, from polluted and overfished oceans up to the warming climate. At the same time, we have access to cleaner technologies and the ability to create high-tech tools like blockchain and distributed manufacturing that can help companies and consumers reduce their environmental footprints. 

Changes to labor markets, the world economy, globalization and sustainability will continue to produce many advantages and opportunities, but unfortunately, many people are not positioned to capitalize on them. Technological transformation also comes with challenging disruptions such as innovations that lead to layoffs. To thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, business professionals, organizations and governments must be able to adapt quickly and often.

3 Characteristics of Adaptable People and How You Can Develop Them 

Growth Mindset - A growth mindset stems from knowing that rather than being born with innate qualities, limitations and talents, we can also acquire knowledge and master new skills with hard work, assistance and good strategies. People with a growth mindset thrive on challenges and persist in the face of adversity. Where other people see obstacles, those with a growth mindset see opportunities. People with a growth mindset celebrate their failures as openings for growth, making it easier and more desirable to try new tasks. 

Developing a Growth Mindset - If you want to develop a growth mindset there are a couple of things you can do: start to think of challenges as opportunities; embrace imperfections, mistakes and failures as learning experiences; come up with new ways to solve a challenge; try something new as an opportunity to learn; celebrate efforts and progress.

Lifelong Learner - In order to respond to the changes and challenges of this new era, business leaders and other professionals have realized the importance of continual learning. As new technologies and processes emerge, lifelong learners dive in and seek to understand and adopt. They are also constantly curious about their surroundings and they tend to thrive in changing environments. 

Developing Lifelong Learning - The most important step to being a lifelong learner is prioritizing learning every day. To develop this habit, here are a few things you can do: enroll in continuing education courses; read books, articles and journals; watch videos; sign up for webinars or masterclasses; teach someone else. 

The Ability to Upskill - Another thing adaptable people do is develop new skills. In this digital revolution, upskillingthe process of learning new, more relevant skills necessary today and in the futurehas become a popular term. Digitization and the introduction of new 4IR technologies will require a new set of skills. These include both technical skills, such as information technology and computer science, and interpersonal skillssuch as empathy, communication and conflict resolution. 

Developing the Ability to Upskill - If you are interested in upskilling yourself, here are a few tips: set a professional development plan; earn a professional certification or take a continuing education course; work on your interpersonal skills; shadow someone in your workplace. 

At Thunderbird, we are committed to preparing global leaders to adapt in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and beyond. We offer undergraduate degreesgraduate degreesexecutive education courses and more for every stage of learning. Our curriculum at all levels is designed to teach both the hard skills and the soft skills necessary for success and global prosperity in this new era of rapid change. 

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