A robot sitting at a table and a robot hand with blocks (photo: Shutterstock)

A revolution in the workplace

It’s said that things come in threes, but industry and technology have gone one better. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is officially underway and making a radical impact on the world of work. So what do you need to know to prepare for the changes it will bring?

High-rise farming. Space tourism. Miniaturisation medicine. You might not have considered a career in any of these fields when you graduated from university, but they may soon be popular choices. Radical new ways of working are reflecting the start of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where fast and constant change is the default position.

Characterised by the invention of the steam engine, the original Industrial Revolution (c1760–1840) was a monumental shift from agricultural economies to urban manufacturing. Rapid advances in communication arrived with the Second Industrial Revolution (c1870–1914), with the invention of the telegraph and the expansion of rail networks. And by the 1960s, the Third Industrial Revolution was in progress. Digital computing, mobile phones and the advent of the internet heralded some of the most profound changes yet to our working lives.

Industry 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution bridges the gap between the physical, digital and biological worlds, and is taking technology to a new level. Self-driving cars, 3D printing, nanotechnology and 5G (fifth-generation wi-fi) are some of the innovations that characterise this new era, which brings with it a mix of career opportunities and obstacles.

David Levinson, Careers Manager at our triple-accredited Adam Smith Business School, is optimistic about the opportunities. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will upskill the whole labour market, potentially,” he says. “It will be normal to have several career shifts and many employers throughout your working life, and the critical thinking you get from studying any degree will be in demand in every sector.” David thinks it will be easier to reinvent yourself and take control of your own career rather than devolving responsibility for this to your employer.

But with changes come challenges, and certain routine jobs such as data entry will inevitably give way to automated versions. “Roles may die out in sectors like accounting and law,” says David, “but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to need accountants or lawyers.” Instead, technological advances should mean the repetitive tasks that characterise the early years of such careers will go, and employees can use their skillsets more productively.

Though it’s impossible to know for sure which jobs will still exist as the century progresses, jobs likely to give way to automation include telemarketer, cashier and fast food cook, while at the lower-risk end of the scale are the so-called “high-tech and high-touch” jobs unlikely to be adversely affected, such as scientists, robotics specialists, artists, occupational therapists, mental health workers and clergy.

David notes that in this changing landscape, we should expect to work in “jobs that we can’t imagine, in sectors that don’t yet exist”. Some of these novel roles could be:

  • body parts manufacturing: producing bionic prostheses and growing organs and cells in the lab
  • space guide: accompanying tourists on trips into orbit
  • personal brand consultant: working to give social media influencers and “solopreneurs” a strong
    brand presence
  • miniaturisation medicine: producing and using smaller, more advanced medical devices
  • high-rise or vertical farming: using indoor farming techniques to control light and nutrition and
    save space

A flexible outlook

There’s no such thing any more as a job for life, so it’s vital, says David, that you have an open mind, ask the right questions, spot opportunities and be willing to take calculated risks. The Fourth Industrial Revolution may be unstoppable, but with the right attitude it’s also an inspiring opportunity.

This article was first published September 2019.