Editor’s Picks

Is Your Organization Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

By Cait Etherington
December 10, 2017

A new report published by the World Economic Forum suggests that life-long learning is bound to be part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but the report also raises major concerns about whether or not schools and businesses are ready to respond to this new training demand.

Disruptions in the Economy

The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution was issued by the WEF earlier this year and offers insight into the changing landscape not only of work but also of education and training. “By one popular estimate,” the Report observes, “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” It follows that “In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends—and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.” But preparing the next generation for future jobs is not the only pending challenge.

Perhaps, the greatest challenge we now face is keeping our existing labor force relevant. As observed in The Future of Jobs report, “Current technological trends are bringing about an unprecedented rate of change in the core curriculum content of many academic fields, with nearly 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree outdated by the time students graduate, according to one popular estimate.” As a result, even people in STEM positions can expect to enter their professionals only partially prepared for what they will face on the job. But the report further emphasizes that our current disruptive changes “will have a significant impact on skills requirements in all job families and that they are creating a range of opportunities and challenges in all industries, not just narrowly related to ‘hard knowledge’, technical skills and technology.” In order to manage these trends, the report suggests that reskilling and upskilling talent across industries will be imperative over the coming decades.

Learning Over the Course of One’s Career

While no job or sector will be spared, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there are some sectors that will find their skills disrupted at a more rapid pace. Over all, the media, entertainment and information sector will experience the most stability in skill sets between now and 2020 followed by the consumer sector (27% to 30%). By contrast, the transportation sector and the financial services sector will experience the highest levels of disruption between now and 2020 (39% to 43%). This means that all workers, not just those motivated to acquire new skills, will need to step up and become life-long learners. Indeed, the WEF report calls for a “wholesale reskilling of existing workforces throughout their lifecycle.” Some nations are already engaged in this work.  Denmark, for example, funds two weeks of certified skills training per year to adults. To remain competitive, it seems likely that the United States will also need to consider such policy, although they will likely come from the private not public sector.

How eLearning Can Help Us Avoid a Labor Crisis

As emphasized in the WEF’s report, “During previous industrial revolutions, it has often taken decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this may simply not be an option.” While eLearning alone won’t solve our current crisis, as a flexible and adaptable learning method, there is no question that eLearning in all its forms from MOOCs to microdegrees to online coding bootcamp programs hold great potential to respond to growing need for continuing education across the career cycle. 

The good news is that the technologies that are driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution also offer us new tools to address emerging problems. As found in the WEF report, “Growing computing power and large amounts of data are increasingly making it possible to understand and anticipate changes in labour markets in near-real time, and to re-shape education and training policies in a timelier manner to help narrow the widening skills gap.” What is clear is that as we move deeper into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, eLearning and the entire ed tech sector is well positioned to experience substantial and even unprecedented growth.