What does the fourth industrial revolution mean for HR?

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is changing the type of work that we do; but it is also changing the way we look for jobs and the way that employers attract and find the talent they want.

What does the fourth industrial revolution mean for HR?

Forget about paper-based CVs – they are relics of the past. Skills and experience need to be in digital, searchable format. Platforms like LinkedIn have already replaced CVs for many people, whose details are already documented and accessible. 

And be warned, skills, experience and education are starting to become immutable in blockchain. No longer will candidates be able to ignore jobs that didn’t end well or exaggerate or invent anything.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are infiltrating the people space and enhancing the capabilities of HR practitioners. Increasingly, AI is being used to match skills and experience to requirements. Those who don’t include the right search words and tags are easily overlooked. Robots are already performing the first interview in a process. This is a positive rather than a negative because robots reduce bias in the recruitment process. And if you think bias doesn’t occur, think again – 70% of Americans say they have experienced it in the recruitment process, and we know it is very real in South Africa.

Another positive is that geography is no longer a barrier to connecting people with skills to job opportunities. Interviews on video conference enable the sourcing of talent that would previously have been excluded because of distance. Performance reviews are also changing. Think about real-time ratings such as those given on Uber and Airbnb at the end of each ride or stay. The days of annual performance reviews are over, employees will be rated as they work. 

But the most significant change brought by 4IR is the need for life-long learning. 

People will no longer have 30-year careers. That worked when people died in their 60s, while the first person who will live for 120 years has already been born. We are living longer and healthier lives, which means our careers will need to last longer. 

Yet jobs are changing so fast that the half-life of a technology job is now only 18 months, and most business jobs about 30 months, hence the need to keep learning and unlearning. So real the HR challenge of 4IR is people management, not lost jobs. 

It’s as if we are training our youth for the Olympics, but we don’t yet know which event they are going to participate in. But train them we must and rely on their agility to turn their “fitness” to whatever is required of them.

Many people currently in roles that are under threat will have the aptitude to train for some of the new roles that exist, and for those that have yet to be invented. 

Deloitte predicts the rise of ‘superjobs’, combining jobs that were previously separate and augmenting them with technology. These hybrid jobs will include combining hard skills like coding and data analysis with human skills like communication, collaboration and curiosity.  

The good news for HR practitioners is that they are no longer the gatekeepers of learning. People now augment their own skills with courses from Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera and other online portals. HR’s job on this front will be to provide platforms to keep track of who has learned what skills and ensure that pathways are created to gain valuable related experience.

Curating learning programs and curricula will be an important role in the future. Micro courses, videos, quizzes, games and infographics will be important ways to impart skills to the digital generations. Game-based learning has particular appeal for Gen Z and millennials: it enables much better retention and releases happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin.  

Lifelong learning is a far less intimidating option than finishing a university degree and then waking up some years later to find you have to start studying again after a long break. Constant updates, delivered just in time and on the right device, will ensure that we can handle whatever problems the workplace throws at us. It has never been easier to keep our skills updated.

 Then there’s the option of freelancers, the fastest-growing labour group in the EU. Many of today’s young workers will never be employed full-time in the corporate world, preferring the flexibility of part-time work via platforms like Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer. Companies need to decide which skills they want to buy (recruit) and which they want to rent (freelance services) and which they want to develop through training.

 In technology companies and departments, crowdsourcing is becoming commonplace for building algorithms and software. This creates so many opportunities for those with skills to work independently, or to supplement corporate income, just as it lets corporates supplement their in-house workforce with additional skills. They can scale up and down really quickly and avoid the longer cycles of traditional recruitment and will be used to staff peaks on projects.

In my opinion, the real magic of the future lies in augmented humans: preparing humans to improve their current capabilities with smart machines. This will result in unprecedented innovation, exceptional customer service and a level of personalisation of products and services never seen before.

Human resource practitioners need to stay abreast of changes in technology and understand which technologies are going to boost their productivity and success. And if you think your industry or company is exempt from 4IR, think again. Everyone will be impacted by changes ushered in by the fourth industrial revolution, from farming and government to education and manufacture.BM

Published on Daily Maverick