Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the world of work: It’s complicated

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AS companies gain from digital technologies, the world of work grapples with the challenge of fitting young people with the right skill sets and overall makeup suited to emerging jobs under the Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0; and upskilling the employed so machines will not replace them.

A key component of IR 4.0, or what’s sometimes referred to as “FIR” (Fourth Industrial Revolution), is the Internet of Things that is characterized by connected devices to help internal operations.The use of cloud environment allows companies to store data while equipment and operations can be optimized by leveraging the insights of others, using the same equipment or to allow smaller enterprises access to technology.

Education and industry experts recently gathered at the 8th International Skills Forum at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila, and, while confronting the challenges, raised optimism on the benefits of IR 4.0 in spurring innovation in the workplace, leading to economic growth.

Still, the lingering digital divide aggravates the situations of young people who are already missing the benefits from the second wave of globalization due to poverty.

Beyond literacy, numeracy

Bambang Susantono, vice president for knowledge management and sustainable development of ADB, said governments need to take giant steps to help young people fulfill their potential.

“Young people are inheriting a world affected by inequality, conflict and climate change. These are daunting challenges for the next generation to deal with and they need a broad range of skills to succeed,” said Susantono in his speech at the opening of the three-day forum in Manila.

Governments, he said, need to ensure that education works for children by offering them skills beyond literacy and numeracy. Young people must develop higher levels of skills needed by industries, such as problem solving and critical thinking.

Lant Pritchette, director of US-based Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE), said developing countries should rethink their “logic of logistics” that only ensures young people have access to schools and prepare for the 21st century.

The logic of logistics in the education sector is a simple task of bringing every child to school, but it leaves behind a vast majority who fail at basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

He said a lot of countries treat the “education system as a selection system,” where few get ahead and majority are left behind because the curriculum is beyond their understanding.

At a minimum, every learner must come out of school with universal, early, conceptual and procedural mastery of basic skills or literacy and numeracy.

“In the interest of producing an elite capable of performing at a high level, the curriculum moves ahead so fast and the vast majority of children are left behind completely and stop learning, because the curriculum is far beyond what [learners] can understand,” said Pritchette in his speech.

Lack of employment for many countries is not a problem of shortage of jobs but the steady rise of unemployable youth, he said.

To cope with the challenges of digital technologies, Pritchette said schools need to design a structured pedagogue that focuses teaching at the right level where children can master reading and math and, eventually, the relevant sets of skills.

He said a third grader who can’t read and do arithmetic will fail in the fourth grade where the curriculum is tough and fast-paced.  “At 6th grade, the child is bored and will hate formal sector schooling; thus, it will be too late when, at age 15, adults will train them for a craft.”

In 2014, the Unesco Global Monitoring Report stated that 250 million children are unable to read, write, or do basic mathematics, and, ironically, 130 million of those children are in school.

Potential for AI

Kate Behcken, vice president of Microsoft Philanthropies, said there is an enormous potential of Artificial Intelligence, a key feature of IR 4.0, to increase incomes in the Asia-Pacific region.

To attain this, more than 50 percent of the workforce in Asia Pacific will need to reskill and upskill by 2020 to retain and get jobs.

She said young people need to be equipped with unique skills to thrive in the fast-paced digital technologies.

Among the top skills that will be required of young people are analytical and digital skills, as well as adaptability in the workplace.

She said so-called soft skills such as effective communication, problem solving and critical analysis are highly essential to find and stay in jobs.

Microsoft Philanthropies continues to engage companies to rethink the sets of qualifications in hiring, from certificates to skills-based hiring.

Premium on real skills

Companies, she said, should hire people in new roles based on the skills gained, and not solely on formal education.

Pritchette cited Switzerland as a model in occupational training, where there is no premium on a college degree. “People are valued based on real skills, such as automotive repair, which leads to social equity and productivity.”

Education and industry experts at the forum agreed that countries need to strengthen and design relevant Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), which provides knowledge and skills for employment, mostly for young people in deprived situations.

Michael Fung, deputy chief executive officer of Singapore-based Skills Future, said businesses should invest in employee training as digital technologies rapidly change the nature of jobs.

He urged leaders to rethink the paradigm of education and training to address skills gaps caused by the digital disruptions.

“The traditional education system is fairly linear. We frontload a lot of learning [information] in the first 12 to 16 years, send out graduates of high school and colleges into the real world, and we say good luck,” said Fung.

He said progressive businesses invest in the upskilling of their employees through TVET and lifelong learning.

While Asia is viewed as the next powerhouse of jobs and business opportunities as a result of digital technologies, millions of its population, mostly children, continue to live behind the walls of poverty, conflict and marginalization. The traditional notion that education is the best ticket out of poverty will fail them if, after all their family’s efforts to send them to school, they will spend the best years of their young lives being shaped by an irrelevant, outdated kind of pedagogy.

Estrella Torres is the head of communications at Save the Children Philippines.


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