What Is Industry 4.0? What You Need to Know About the Fourth Industrial Revolution

what is industry 4.0

Our world’s industrial revolutions have become landmarks in our history books. The precise windows of time in which the way humankind operated took a dramatic shift. In the First Industrial Revolution, for example, human muscle was replaced by special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production, initially powered by water and then by steam engines.

The Second Industrial Revolution introduced us to railroads, the telegraph and electricity, paving the way for modern-style mass production. And with the Third Industrial Revolution, analog and mechanical devices were replaced by digital counterparts.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution upon us—sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0—we can expect to see cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Systems join forces, combining the physical, digital and biological worlds. The new technologies ushered in by Industry 4.0 hold the potential to connect billions more people to the digital world, to drastically increase efficiency across industries and even reverse some the environmental damage previous industrial revolutions have inflicted.

But alongside the many benefits we can expect from this tidal wave of change, experts are quick to point out the potential downfalls. Read on for more about the positive and negative ways the Fourth Industrial Revolution could impact the U.S. job market and learn how to stay marketable amidst this shifting landscape.

What to expect from the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, explored this topic in great depth in his 2017 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution. He and many others have pointed out some of the marked differences between this and other industrial revolutions. It is argued that the technological disruption we’re experiencing in the 21st Century differs greatly from what societies faced during revolutions prior.

While an industry may have had years to adapt to things like the steam engine and electricity, the level of change we’re experiencing today is not only instant; it’s also global. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a range of rapidly evolving technology that impacts all disciplines, all industries and all economies.

The results of these impactful shifts and disruptions include, according to Schwab and other experts, potential for great promise and also great peril.

In the manufacturing sector, Industry 4.0 opens us to the possibility of “perfect production.” This means some of the hurdles common to the production process—things like machine failures, product defects and scrap—are eliminated, which helps manufacturers to operate at top efficiency. These advances afford the opportunity to bring production closer to the customer base, paving the way for a slew of benefits: reduced shipping costs, lower energy consumption, increased response rate and fewer risks overall.

But it is in the wake of all this positive change that experts purport some sizable concerns. It is possible, for example, that businesses and organizations will be unable to adapt to these sweeping changes, that governments could fall short in regulating new technologies and that shifts in power could birth new security threats and even that inequality could grow, causing societies to strain and fragment.

It is believed by supporters like Schwab, however, that Industry 4.0 will remain within our control so long as we collaborate across geographies and disciplines to collectively take hold of its many opportunities. He maintains that in coming together, we can shape an outcome that puts the people first, empowering them with the notion that “All of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

What will Industry 4.0 do to the job market?

“The negative outlook around Industry 4.0 and job loss is oftentimes overblown,” poses Jessica Califano, head of marketing and communications at Temboo. “We should consider the new technologies involved in Industry 4.0 as enhancements to current workers, rather than replacements for them.”

Some jobs, she maintains, will inevitably become irrelevant—but that is something we’ve seen throughout all of the industrial revolutions throughout history. “We’ll always need humans in industrial jobs,” Califano explains, “But the skills needed from workers will certainly change. That’s why it’s important to focus on how we can help ‘upskill’ the current workforce, rather than just saying that their expertise is not necessary.”

It is thought that jobs related to data entry and data management will likely be the first to be phased out. “That may include many entry-level accounting and finance positions that traditionally supported this type of work,” suggests Michael Marchuk, chief technology evangelist for the North American sector of Blue Prism.

“The jobs that will be automated are the ones where technology can do a better job compared to humans,” explains Briana Brownell, founder and CEO of PureStrategy. She notes how a lot of administrative and planning functions can be streamlined with new technology, but rather than replacing human workers, we should recognize the need to evolve what their jobs will entail. “I don’t think it’s really about eliminating jobs as much as it is about changing the nature of the work that’s being done.”

Job growth at the hand of evolving technology, on the other hand, is a whole different animal. “We will continue to see growth of analytics-related roles, such as data scientists, in this new economy,” offers Eugene Signorini, vice president of digital strategy and innovation for Venado Technologies. “New streams of data collected from industrial IoT initiatives will require new professional capabilities.”

It’s also true that with Blue Collar jobs becoming much more digitized, we’ll see a need for tech-savvy “new collar” workers. Job titles within this arena might include 3D printing operator, digital fabrication service technician, predictive data analyst and robotics programmer, according to Sarah Boisvert, founder of Fab Lab Hub. “The common thread is an emphasis on digital skills combined with hands-on experience,” she explains.

In terms of thriving within the new job market brought on by Industry 4.0, Boisvert believes the following: “If we are willing to invest in new training models, then all industries can thrive as humans integrate with machines.”

How to stay relevant amidst the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The question of whether the adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace will save or stunt the American workforce has long been circulating. But if you’re at all worried about maintaining your own employability, know that there are a few things you can do to ensure you remain a coveted asset within your industry.

“One of the most important skills in the next 10 years is going to be fluency with data, including analysis and numeracy skills,” Brownell says. In the same way a doctor is trained to come to a conclusion based on a patient’s description of symptoms and diagnostic test results, she adds, it will become increasingly more common for workers in almost all job sectors to be tasked with intuitively understanding what the data they are looking at says about the status of the portion of business they’re working within.

While it’s important to remain well versed in all emerging technology related to your field, up-and-coming professionals would be remiss to not focus on sharpening their people skills. “Interpersonal skills will become even more critical as businesses automate their operations,” Marchuk explains, highlighting customer service skills as a prime differentiator.

When it comes to making sure your organization remains relevant in this evolving market, online marketer for Authority Hacker, Jon Hayes, urges a renewed focus on personalization. “While many have predicted a future where robotic bartenders serve picture-perfect martinis, this whole vision of the future seems to be missing one thing—individuality,” he says.

Hayes calls out our current social media culture as an indicator that people today are passionate about their lifestyles and yearning to be treated as individuals. “The only way we can tap into this market of people is by handcrafting an experience tailored just for them — in a way that no algorithm could hope to match,” he explains.

“Businesses that can work hand-in-hand with technology and know when and where a personalized touch is necessary are almost certain to thrive in the near future,” Hayes adds. “Sure, we can get that robot to whip up that martini, but it’s the bartender who hands it over with a charming smile that will really leave you coming back for more.”

Will you flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

With some huge changes afoot in our global society, it’s no wonder so many professionals are wondering if their employment status will be snatched out from under them by the next new, streamlined development in technology. As you seek to stay relevant, it’s worth considering some of the ways the job market is shifting as you map out your personal plan for career success.

Among the many new and evolving jobs thrust to the forefront of Industry 4.0 is an interesting new category that may catch your attention: a hybrid between the tried-and-true field of business and the constantly changing field of technology. Learn more about the options that await by visiting our article, 6 High-Demand Hybrid Jobs That Straddle Business and Technology.”

Jess Scherman

Jess is a Content Specialist at Collegis Education. She researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College to help empower students to achieve their career dreams through higher education.

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