The dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) was always going to be fraught with challenges, but nobody could have predicted the massively disruptive event that was the Covid-19 pandemic, writes Sarthak Rohal, VP – IT services at AlphaCodes.

The world was thrown into turmoil and forced to adapt – it became a matter of ‘digital or die’. The pandemic threw into stark relief the need to continually adapt skill sets to meet evolving requirements in a world where the only constant is change. With the future uncertain, one thing is for sure – ongoing skills development is the best defence to ensure organisations can pivot to handle digital disruption with ease.

New world, new skills
The 2020 Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum estimates that by 2025, on average, organisations will require 40% of workers to reskill. Moreover, more than one-third of the current skills that are believed to be essential for today’s workforce will change or are already in the process of change. The report shows that the top 10 skills needed in the future will all revolve around problem-solving, self-management, people skills and the use and development of technology.

Adding to the complexity, 4IR means that, increasingly, people will need to share the workplace with Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms and bots. This fundamentally changes the skills matrix required to thrive in the workplace of the future. In addition to problem solving and technology, skills like analytical thinking, creativity and interpersonal communication become critical.

Employees also need to develop greater Emotional Intelligence (EQ), as well as leadership and people management skills, to handle growing diversity and develop cultural intelligence. Above all, employees need to have cognitive flexibility, the ability to embrace change, and a mindset that supports active learning and personal growth.

Staying ahead of the curve
Businesses that fail to pay sufficient attention to skills development will likely suffer from a variety of productivity-related challenges. These include unhappy and ineffective employees, increased cost of production, lack of innovation resulting in loss of competitive edge, and ultimately lost customers and lost revenue.

Failure to acquire or adequately train the future generation of workers for the digitally-driven economy will lead to greater income disparity, increased unemployment, and overall global economic losses. To stay ahead of the curve, organisations and individuals need to commit to lifelong learning, to acquire and sustain the relevant skill sets to succeed in the ever-changing workplace of the future. While 4IR is dominated by technology, the skills that set people apart from machines will be emphasised. These skills will help organisations and individuals to adapt and participate in the changing landscape of work.

A new approach is needed
There can be no doubt that 4IR holds significant promise for business with the rapidly expanding use of robotics and process automation, big data to create smarter supply chains, and AI for decision-making. However, the speed of technology evolution is outpacing the speed at which current and future talent can be upskilled and trained. Eventually, this will create a chasm between skills needed and skills available.

For businesses to be able to leverage the advantages of 4IR, they need an abundant supply of necessary skills. To achieve this, it is essential to rethink and rejuvenate the current education and training framework. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, some 230 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030, which equates to 650 training opportunities, creating a $130 billion market. While the National Skills Development Strategy already exists in South Africa, encouraging local enterprises to invest in skills, there is a lot more that needs to happen to meet the requirements of 4IR.

The focus needs to shift to a mindset of continuous learning, upskilling, and reskilling, including not only technology skills but the so-called ‘soft’ skills that will become increasingly critical as robotics and AI rise. Above all, it is essential to monitor the effectiveness of training, supply and demand management, and the depth of management skills, to ensure that skills development continues to meet changing needs, now, and in the future.

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