Every industrial revolution has brought along three scenarios that affected workers in different ways: the extinction of certain professions, the transformation of those remaining and the emergence of new ones. The fourth industrial revolution, which the world is undergoing right now due to the impact of the unrelenting development of new technologies related to the digital universe, will be no exception. And one of the biggest challenges it poses, both for companies and human capital, is the achievement of a successful adaptation, or in other words, that the rate of jobs generated and transformed is higher than the number of those likely to extinct.
The truth is that there are reasons to be optimistic. According to a study called AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs by the Pew Research Center, among the 2 000 experts surveyed, more than half (52%) consider that, although many of the jobs currently performed by people will be overtaken by robots or digital agents by 2025, the number of positions created will be higher when compared to those replaced eventually by technology.
The reason is that wide sectors of daily life and numerous industries will be imbued by robotics and artificial intelligence during the next decade, generating new job opportunities. Their distribution will depend precisely upon adaptation, and it will be a task determined not only by the role played by professionals themselves but also by new strategies implemented by HR departments within companies.
From the point of view of professionals, the general belief is that the individuals who will emerge reinforced out of this fourth industrial revolution will be those capable of identifying in-demand skills and the way to acquire them.
At one side of the spectrum, we find social-emotional skills which, according to José Manuel Salazar Xirinacs, branch office director at the International Labour Organization (ILO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, should be “creativity, team work and leadership”. Indeed, one of the challenges for educational systems will be to allow employees of the future to develop them.
Regarding technical skills, training is crucial and good disposition is the prevailing attitude: 65% of workers in Europe is willing to retrain to adapt to new technologies, according to a survey by the multinational company Epson called The Workplace of Tomorrow, which conducted interviews with more than 7 000 professionals from diverse sectors.
Knowing where and how to acquire these skills will be a key element in order for a professional to be successful in his adaptation process. In some instances, resorting to traditional higher education will suffice. That won’t be the case with others, since beyond university campuses, HR managers of companies which have decided to go digital are also paying close attention to other places where suitable workers can be found, such as online job platforms or coworking centres, where constant exchange of ideas among participants is the norm.
And what kind of role do companies play in this adaptation journey? The magic word is “mentoring”, a process of guidance, support and advice with the purpose of making employees aware that change is necessary; encouraging them to overcome the barriers related to lack of knowledge and insecurity; providing them with the time necessary to retrain; promoting assistance from other colleagues throughout the adaptation stage; and backing them continuously so that they know they’re not alone in this sometimes complicated process.
In conclusion, an adequate HR strategy is also essential to facilitate adaptation to technological change.