Each year, advances in technology take us in new directions. Sometimes, these can be unexpected or disruptive to businesses, but such challenges also present an opportunity to improve.
You’ve probably heard mention of the term “Industry 4.0”. It envisions a future where advanced digital production technologies are integrated into a smart, self-correcting organization. For some, that future is already taking place today, but it’s not yet a global reality. Many companies still have time to catch up.
To do that, the critical issue that needs to be addressed is learning. And it’s not just what your people know, but how they, and the entire organization, can be dynamic learners.
A competition of the few
Over the decades, an already globalized world has only trended further towards inter-connectedness. And when you’re highly networked, it makes changes come swiftly and often unpredictably.
In turn, this subjects industries to greater competitive pressure. If a manufacturer begins to use data analytics to optimize its processes, those insights and efficiency gains fuel further advantages. Competitors will have to find a way to narrow the gap or risk getting left behind.
This effectively creates a scenario that can be likened to an escalating arms race. New technologies are developed, companies harness them in a bid for differentiation, which creates a demand for workers who have the requisite skills.
Broadly speaking, this pattern isn’t new. What’s changed in recent years is the speed at which this is all unfolding.
Consider the technologies that are viewed as core components of Industry 4.0: big data, cloud computing, AI and robotics, IoT devices, cyber-physical systems, and additive manufacturing. Some have been in the works for years but weren’t relevant until recently. Many represent new developments. Put it all together, and the average person probably wasn’t taught the associated skills to use these technologies in school.
That creates the central problem of Industry 4.0 because, for companies to compete, they need people. And if most people aren’t already equipped with the skills needed, the advantage goes to the few organizations that employ those who are qualified, and the competitive gulf widens.
The unexpected skills gap
The solution seems simple enough. If the typical education doesn’t outfit graduates with the capabilities for success in the modern workforce, companies have to do the rest. You identify the candidate who’s closest to meeting the requirements and put them through a training program that addresses the skills gap. Problem solved.
However, before jumping to conclusions, it’s best to hear from the workers themselves. A study by Deloitte exposes this gap in thinking between leadership and employees.
Two-thirds of C-suite leaders think that Industry 4.0-readiness requires a greater focus on technical ability and STEM skills. But young workers surveyed expressed their need for training in soft skills. In particular, interpersonal skills, motivation and confidence, ethics and integrity, and critical thinking were cited as vital to ensure their success.
For instance, if you work for a marketing agency and your clients are home care providers, big data can tell you which engagement channels to focus on. But it requires critical thinking to plan and execute on the identified targets. And you’ll need empathy to really deliver value by understanding the needs of your client’s desired audience and imagining what their ideal employee looks like.
Today, the use of algorithms to fuel data-driven decisions is widespread. But there are many instances in which algorithms inherit bias or impose on users’ privacy. How can companies do better if their people don’t have the integrity required to call out unethical practices?
Emphasizing dynamic learning
The takeaway is that organizations themselves need to be dynamic learners. While it’s vital to train people on the technical aspect of their jobs, you can’t ignore their other needs. That can only happen if leaders are willing to listen and apply feedback to the company’s training processes.
Towards that end, a flatter hierarchy is recommended to streamline communication and reduce the distance between employees and top-level decision-makers. This way, managers can better encourage their people to participate in discussions. It fosters organizational cognition of opportunities for improvement, leading to faster problem-solving and innovation in response to challenges.
Education can’t be left out of the equation, as every industry still needs a reliable talent pipeline. Companies can improve their partnership with educational institutions, helping to identify specific gaps in technical proficiency and soft skills. In the short term, educators can assist companies with the creation and instruction of learning modules while improving their schools’ ability to provide occupational training in the long haul.
Today, workers are already being required to become continuous learners if they aspire to career success. Industry 4.0 will require the same of the organizations that employ them.