Workplace 4.0 | the role of education

workplace 4.0 | the role of educationIn a world entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by exponential advances in technology capability (AI, Machine Learning, Cyber-Physical Systems (Internet of Things), Robotics) it naturally follows that the emerging generations need to be prepared to not only compete with, but outperform technology if they are to thrive in workplace 4.0. But is enough being done by our education system to prepare emerging generations for their future in workplace 4.0?

“If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do and how to do it.” (Abraham Lincoln, House Divided speech)

Tomorrow’s graduates are entering a working environment where to compete people need competence (subject knowledge), competency (the ability to efficiently and effectively produce in the workplace) and capability (the ability to take what you know and how you do it and be productive in non-routine situations). Workplace 4.0 will create hyper-competition for jobs and the emerging generations are faced with three possible outcomes: they become obsolete | they survive, but live under constant threat of obsolescence | they have the skills to adapt and thrive.

Traditionally education systems have focused on delivering subject-level knowledge, with lip service being provided to competency (employability skills). However, organisations are increasingly interested in competency and capability over competence – the argument being that organisations can teach subject-level knowledge, but the value lies in a person’s talent (competency and capability).

The problem is that traditionally the competition has been focused on the human – collaborating and competing with, and outperforming other people in the workplace. However, technology capability is experiencing accelerated returns, eloquently illustrated by Scott Brinker’s Martec’s Law (2016) (see below), which is punctuating traditional views on people in the workplace and human (comparative) advantage.


Data published over the last four years points to accelerating change and challenges for graduates who will not only have to compete and collaborate with technology, but outperform technology alternatives:

  • Carney (2016) reported uncertainty to be 1.5 standard deviations above historical norms.
  • The World Economic Forum (2016) claims that within three years 35% of jobs will require skills not currently being considered by employers or employees.
  • The Chartered management Institute (2016) reports that 33% of UK graduates are underemployed.
  • According to observers such as Frey & Osbourne (2013) through to Price Waterhouse Cooper (2017), between 30% and 48% of the current workforce will come under threat from automation in the next 13 years (sample of findings, based on US employment data can be found below).
  • Forrester (2017) are among those suggesting a more optimistic view, where they estimate 25 million US jobs will be lost to automation, but 15 million new jobs will be created – a deficit of 10 million jobs.

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“Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people…there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.” (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2016, The Second Machine Age)

The question, therefore, is what is being done within our education systems to prepare learners & graduates for workplace 4.0 – a place where the ability to outperform technology will be critical to for this looking to not only thrive, but survive in a talent-led knowledge economy?

The argument by many is that too few of today’s emerging generations are being prepared to compete and collaborate with technology in workplace 4.0 (e.g. a lack of understanding of programming). However, more concerning is that few universities are consciously developing employability skills in a meaningful way – in other words, they set out to support, resource and challenge the development of such skills from entry through to transition to employment (employment, not underemployment).

The World Economic Forum has highlighted the top 10 skills required to thrive in today’s workplace (see below). But what is being done within our education systems to actively raise awareness of these skills, to say nothing of supporting, resourcing and challenging their development (i.e. enhancing a student’s Self Perception of Employability and, therefore, their ability to take action and sync with uncertain and volatile labour markets)?

The problem being that if our education systems are not consciously working toward the development of such skills, it then has to be asked whether they are failing in their duty of care to their learners and the societies within which they sit.

More than this, in a world where talent (people with high levels of competency and capability) will outperform people with high levels of subject-level knowledge alone, a lack of conscious focus on competency and capability is, surely, a problem for society as a whole – fundamentally, with our communities barely survive or thrive?

Therefore, simply put, if people are to adapt to the demands of workplace 4.0, in order to continue to develop societal competitive advantage, is it time for revolution, as opposed to evolution, within our education systems?

If learners, educators, leaders and society stands still, what is the cost of doing nothing?

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