The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Why training matters

The very concept of change depends on our ability to embrace it or deny it. By definition, change means “to make or become different”. For some, this implies a conscious forward movement – a choice. Others see change as something that is inevitable and uncomfortable.

Throughout history, we saw major changes to the way we work brought about discoveries such as fire, steam power, electricity, computers and the Internet. Each of these inventions set off an Industrial Revolution in its own right, forcing us to rethink our position in the workplace and the world.

These revolutions seem to intensify in its impact, severity and consequence and have had a significant impact on technology-driven industries worldwide. As we enter a new era, synonymous with buzzwords such as “disruptive technologies”, “automation”, “big data” and “machine learning”, we confront a new beast: The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Recently described by the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab as a “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”, this revolution already has and will undoubtedly continue to change the financial services and banking sector in South Africa.

Despite trying to keep up with regulatory changes, economic pressures and political nuances within the South African market space, we now have to understand, manage and master this fusion of technologies, the opportunities and challenges that it brings. The sheer pace at which the work place is changing is enough to stagger organisations into “fight mode”, leaving us unable to focus our efforts in innovation and advancement.

This calls for industry members to evaluate their training strategies in earnest. Further to economic and political pressures such as the #Feesmustfall movement posing a real threat to the future South African workforce, companies need to ensure that their current employees develop and retain their critical skills in order to move forward.

Skills-training for the future

Considering the sheer magnitude and velocity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are heading towards the death of the fixed job description. Yet, according to the Brandon Hall Group 2014 Learning and Development Benchmarking Study, only 10% of companies were expected to increase their training budgets in the last three years. The World Economic Forum also recently reported that more than 35% of skills deemed important in today’s work place will change within the next five years.

Whilst rapidly changing technologies may leave companies feeling overwhelmed and short on time and resources, they should embrace its benefits to empower the new generation workforce by means of untethered, on-demand and collaborative training methods. Blended and e-learning will become a critical part of companies’ training strategies as the way in which we work, where we do business and how we interact with colleagues are being turned on its head by this disruptive fusion of technologies.

Research by Bersin (Deloitte) indicates that 30% of full-time employees work away from their employer’s location. A further 20% of this workforce comprises of temporary workers, contractors and freelancers. The study found that modern learners are increasingly turning to their smartphones and search engines for information; yet only 10% of companies are actively implementing mobile learning solutions.

Getting the basics right

Commenting on the current challenges and constant changes faced by the industry, the Microfinance Association of South Africa (MFSA) believes that training remains of utmost importance and should be a core focus area for all industry members, especially in microfinance. Without effective training in terms of the National Credit Act, credit providers of all sizes will be unable to promote fair and responsible credit and reduce over indebtedness – let alone deliver products that empower customers and embrace disruptive technologies.

Occupation-directed skills development coupled with soft-skills training may well enable employees to strike the perfect balance in retaining a productive, challenged, highly-skilled workforce. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will undoubtedly challenge individuals to show exceptional skills in time management, problem solving, conflict resolution, logical thinking and project management; all skills that require human input beyond artificial intelligence.

What makes South Africa unique is that we possess a first world capacity to utilise these technologies, ultimately enabling us to solve third world problems. This puts us in a unique position to pioneer solutions unique to the markets we operate in, harnessing our critical skills and embracing the opportunities that constant change brings.

Through on-going skills development and in embracing alternative learning methods, organisations will be able to attract, retain and grow a work force that will be able to withstand disruptive change.

*This article was written for Bankseta’s The Account Magazine