4IR and what it means for you

The thing with trendy terms is that they quickly reach a point where people stop paying attention. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, 4IR in short, has been the darling of keynote addresses the world over, particularly in the financial services sector. “The 4IR as the ultimate disruptor”… Sound familiar? The other thing about trendy terms is that they so often deserve our undivided attention.

So, what is 4IR exactly? In the rather dramatic words of the World Economic Forum (WEF), it “is a new chapter in human development, enabled by extraordinary technology advances commensurate with those of the first, second and third industrial revolutions.” 4IR will create “both huge promise and potential peril”,  the WEF continues.

In a nutshell, modern technology – automation, AI, 5G, to name a few – is changing our lives at home and in the office. It is also transforming education in that new skills are needed in the workplace for companies to function in this new and strange 4IR environment. Imagine the effort by employers to bring their employees up to date on email best practices when the Internet became a thing in the 90s. Or cybersecurity practices, for that matter. It’s the same thing, just on a much grander scale.

For higher education to deliver future generations with the right set of skills and knowledge they must first address how they themselves will be affected by 4IR, and then how it will impact what they offer to students, and the medium in which it will be taught.

What are these new skills?

There’s a slow shift from labour- and resource-intensive industries towards a knowledge economy, for which the skill sets and capabilities of the next generation of workers must be adapted.

Critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity are seeing renewed interest, by employers and students. Think problem solving, financial literacy, digital literacy, teamwork, marketing and presentation skills, among a range of other skills that hinge on the importance of adaptability. These skills will become increasingly pivotal as the 4IR continues to infiltrate and shake up our daily lives.

Higher education institutions have a critical role to play in meeting this demand for new skills and capabilities. And they need to respond quickly.

Opportunities in online learning

The internet has obliterated physical limitations to education. People the world over are obtaining their diplomas and degrees using their mobile phones and computers on cloud-based and other platforms for access to learning materials.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), online courses open to unlimited number of students, are increasing exponentially across the globe, making learning more accessible to people. Globally, the number of participants has doubled in 2015 from 16-18 million students to 35 million students, according to By the Numbers: MOOCS in 2015.

Many universities have also entered the online learning domain by offering online courses in partnership with MOOC platforms.

A recent McKinsey study found that 56% of new jobs are in brand-new professions. Even just looking at the WEF’s career page it is evident which skills are relevant in today’s job market: experts in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, specialists in cyber-security, internet governance, social media, start-ups, machine learning, robotics, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, Blockchain…

“Technology creates more jobs than it destroys,” as the World Economic Forum (WEF) says. It would be wise for all of us to get on the bus and join the party.