Education is the primary tool for connecting people to the workplace. It is a building block that is used to aid employment. Employment, in turn, is the channel that allows people to be economically autonomous and to play an active role in the economy. However, in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the traditional avenues of employment are being challenged by the digitalization of the workplace. In certain industries, the labour force is being eroded by the integration of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, and in light of this entrepreneurship the second – and often forgotten – leg of employment needs to be urgently re-examined. A reconfiguration of our perception of education, employment and entrepreneurship can play a critical role in allowing people to build successful careers and businesses that are augmented and not threatened by these new technologies.
Traditionally education has been monodisciplinary, and the further a person went along in their studies the more focused and narrowed those studies became. Subsequently people would obtain a narrow specialised skill set from a university, a college or a training programme, and this would qualify them to build a trade in a specific field of interest. The perception was that the more specialised a person became the more economically valuable they would become. Just as a doctor who qualifies as a specialist in a certain field of medicine often earns more than a general practitioner, the same applies to other fields. Today, however, this perception needs to be reconfigured as the new developments in technology have disrupted how we must approach education.
In the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is a new demand to be an interdisciplinary and T-shaped person – that is, one who has an in-depth knowledge of a specific field, with sufficient knowledge in other fields outside their own specialisation. The skills that they acquire outside their area of specialisation offer complimentary knowledge that enables them to also enrich their field of expertise.
One example is Jeff Bezos, one of the wealthiest people in the world. He specialised in computer science and worked on Wall Street for several years, allowing him to build a range of skills before he ventured into e-commerce. When he started Amazon in 1994 the internet was still a new emerging technology – and so even though he had a computer science background, he had to learn about the internet and further broaden his skillset. This new knowledge, paired with his computer science expertise, allowed him to build Amazon – a prime example of a company that was able to successfully capitalise on the benefits of the third industrial revolution.
In order for people to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they are going to have to broaden their skill sets and learn about these new technologies. The good thing is that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is making skill development is a more seamless and accessible process. With mediums such as search engines like Google, massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Edx and Coursea, podcasts and Youtube videos, a library of knowledge can be easily accessed. A reliance on linear monodisciplinary skillsets will restrict people’s ability to connect with the labour force as so many fields become augmented with technology and more interdisciplinary. Technology does not make people obsolete, but it does change the prerequisite for employment, as a retrospective look at the third industrial revolution demonstrates.
Thanks to the technologies of today, entrepreneurship has become a more accessible source of revenue – starting and running a business can be achieved through a social media page, for example – and our perception of business should be reconfigured to match this transformation. Entrepreneurship traditionally was not a very accessible career option, as it was an expensive and extremely high-risk career path. However, with developments in technology and with third-party platforms such as Etsy, Shopify and Amazon, people have easier, low-cost means to sell and market their products and services. Entrepreneurship is shifting towards a low risk, high-return game versus a high-risk, low-return environment.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has reconfigured our society in order to achieve its objectives of increasing the integration of technology into businesses and the business process. This has raised fears of social and economic problems, such as higher unemployment. A lot of these risks and fears can be mitigated by rethinking of how we perceive education, employment and entrepreneurship. These are closely interlinked and, if well-connected, form the key components for an ecosystem of sustainable economic development – and the best way to do so is to diversify education to give people broad skillsets that make them more compatible with the digitalization of the workplace, or with the competencies to become successful entrepreneurs.
South Africa Today