The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will disrupt our way of doing things as the previous versions did. Right from the first revolution in the early 19th century to the latest in the early 21st century, each time we see disruptions of several kinds and at the same time, more output with fewer efforts.
The disruption is not surprising.
We were able to lift heavy objects easily and move them from one place to the other using steam engines and various other mechanical ways. Then came electricity which helped us with faster and better machines. We mass-produced several goods at unheard-of speed and superb accuracy. We stopped using animals to do manual work because machines could do those easier and better. Eventually, batch production methods and factories replaced the ways clothes were woven, footwear was made, building materials were produced, tools and precision equipment were manufactured. In the process, craftsmen and artists who knew only one way to earn their livelihood lost their jobs to the machines who could bring out the output with great reliability and low efforts. Cost of production came down and the quality of goods went up.
Came the era of electronics and telecommunication which shrunk distances and made information available instantaneously. Products and services could be produced anywhere and made available globally; market boundaries expanded beyond the vistas of one’s home country subject to the policies of the native government. Again in this era of the industrial revolution, we saw business processes changing, large companies failing, successful companies transforming into new business models, digital technologies ruling the roost right from agriculture, construction, manufacturing to banking, healthcare, education and governments.
Undoubtedly, 4IR with the advent of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, internet of things, augmented reality, analytics and biosciences have started disrupting the way goods and services are sold, produced, stored and delivered. Our habits and outlooks are changing; socio-cultural norms are transforming and geo-political changes are taking place. These will impact the way we live our lives and earn our livelihoods.
Schools and colleges need a new mandate!
Most of our educational institutes have annual calendars. Before they can think of changing their syllabi and pedagogy for the next year, industry launches new products, platforms and ideas. Hence, it is impossible for any educational institute to impart the knowledge and skills that will make the graduating students ready for the industry.
Let us take the example of a driving school which provides short courses spanning a few hours of training that is aimed at making its students good drivers. The courses are focused on teaching road signs and driving skills. One wonders if this certification is enough for a student to emerge as a good driver in today’s context.
We have a plethora of situations right from driving one’s own car, using the self-drive scooters and cars to riding on the congested city roads and the off-roads. Drivers have to deal with the cops of various cities and towns of India, the eventualities on the roads of our country and adapting to the norms prevalent about giving way to others! If you are an experienced driver, you would relate to each of these situations very well and agree that the training in most driving schools fall way below the demands of being a capable driver.
In the era of 4IR, we are going to see disruptions of various kinds at a faster pace than ever before. So, we should not expect our school or college to equip us with skills that will be relevant to start on a job productively as soon as one graduate. Moreover, the job that one starts one’s career might cease to exist in a few years. Many routine tasks will be done by the machines while human beings will perform jobs that need human emotions and judgement. Hence, we must ask our schools and colleges to teach us curiosity and adaptability so that we can unlearn and relearn.
We have to learn on the job!
Staying with the example of driving licenses and keeping the idea of driverless cars aside, the RTOs (Road Transport Organisations) in India issue more than 10 million fresh licenses each year. We know, most of these licensed drivers are not adequately trained and hence, cannot be expected to deliver the desired results. Most of them learn on-the-job and evolve. The same is true for all other professions.
As 4IR has started, we will see many professions getting outdated and thus, the jobs dying or morphing into something else. We, the people in the labour pool need to keep acquiring new skills which might supplement our current job or acquire something altogether new. We have to forget the concept of having a profession for a lifetime. People will need to either change their profession a few times in their lifetime or keep shuffling between them. For example, we have people going to their farms during the harvest season and working as delivery agents with e-commerce companies in the other times of the year. Farming and delivery of goods are unrelated professions and call for hugely different skills and attitude to perform any of them efficiently. Such gig-working will be more pronounced in the days to come.
Our education policy has to promote the idea of learning on the job, and companies have to build the necessary infrastructure of providing on-the-job training for a fairly long time.