Skills for the fourth industrial revolution?

It’s no secret that times are changing, that technology is having an ever greater impact upon our lives and that our young people are moving into a future where their role in the workforce is going to be quite different from that of their parents and grandparents. In my role at RGU I aim to equip young people with the ability to cope with these upheavals, to respond to them and maintain a strong sense of identity and confidence in the midst of massive and rapid changes. I aim to enable them to take their place in the workforce and contribute to a successful future for all of us.

The World Economic Forum states: “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

This technological revolution is expected to change our lives as fundamentally as the first industrial revolution. We are moving into an age of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, cybernetics, quantum computing – the very relationship between human beings, technology and our environment is changing.

As with any revolution the changes and challenges we all face are incredibly disruptive and the WEF does not paint an optimistically happy, utopian vision of the future – it is clear about the potential for such changes to fuel dissatisfaction and disappointment, creating a sense of expectation that is never fulfilled. At work I already see our young people grappling with these issues – coping with the pressures of social media, the expectation to be ‘on’ all the time, sifting the fake news from the fact. Increasing numbers of students are dealing with issues such as anxiety and depression.

Meanwhile a recent report from Deloitte states: “For today’s 1.8bn global youth who are between the ages of 15 and 29, this revolution will significantly shape their roles as the future workforce, consumers, and competitors. Automation, digitalization, artificial intelligence, and robotics mean businesses should rethink how and where work is done.”

In this context the potential role and value of the social sciences becomes clear, not least because social science requires students to start to rethink their assumptions and look at their world from new perspectives in order to understand and find solutions to complex problems. I am developing a new MSc aiming to address these issues and I am keen to understand how businesses see their future workforce needs – you can take my short survey here to let me know what skills you think an effective response to the 4th industrial revolution will require.

Dr Sarah Buckler

Dr Sarah Buckler