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Posted: August 10, 2017

By: Megan Weekley


The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Future Skills Needs


If you’re like me, you probably remember learning about the Industrial Revolution in elementary school. It was the societal change that occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries and was marked by the move from mostly agrarian, rural communities to industrial and urban ones. But did you know that there have been two other industrial revolutions since then, and we are currently entering the fourth industrial revolution?

The World Economic Forum recently published, The Future of Jobs:  Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which examines employment, job security, and the skills workers will need to participate in this new economy. The entire report is a very compelling read, but I am most interested in what it has to say about our future skills needs. Is our current workforce prepared to meet the skills needs of this new revolution? If not, what can both employees and employers do to ensure success in this new economy?

According to the report, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is marked by breakthroughs in emerging fields like robotics, alternative intelligence, biotechnology, and 3D printing, to name just a few. This newest revolution builds off the technological advances of the current digital revolution in a way that not only continues to connect more people, but is also all-encompassing in the improvements and efficiencies affecting all aspects of human interactions. As industries adjust, most occupations will undergo radical transformation. The pace of change for required skills in the new economy is set to accelerate faster than ever before.


One estimate states that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new occupations that don’t currently exist.


The report further states that nearly 50% of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree is outdated by the time a student graduates. It is clear that we’re entering a new era where our current skills capacity will not meet future demand.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes hold, the report asserts that businesses must take action in response to the new reality of rapid change:

For businesses to capitalize on new opportunities, they will need to put talent development and future workforce strategy front and centre to their growth. Firms can no longer be passive consumers of ready-made human capital.  They require a new mindset to meet their talent needs and to optimize social outcomes.


While the report makes some great suggestions on how this could be done - such as leveraging flexible working arrangements for employees, and reinventing the HR function to be more strategic at organizations - a recommendation that really stood out to me is one that is near and dear to all of our hearts at Western Continuing Studies. This is to focus on lifelong learning! No longer should education be something that we need to squeeze into the first 24 years of our lives. The report suggests that governments and businesses need to do more to incentivize the reskilling of existing workforces throughout their lifecycles.

Governments and businesses have many opportunities to collaborate more to ensure that individuals have the time, motivation and means to seek retraining opportunities.


So, instead of having the typical four-year relationship with a student, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may demand that a post-secondary institution may now have a 40-year relationship of continual learning, upskilling, training and educational experiences.



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