4IR: The need for human skills grows as bots take over

Robotic arms mount doors to a model of the ID.3 Volkswagen electric car at an assembly line of the car factory of German car maker Volkswagen.

By U2B Staff 

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Industries are increasingly seeking ways to revolutionise manufacturing processes. Industry 4.0 or 4IR and digitalisation of processes have provided ways for industries to reimagine traditional manufacturing processes.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum coined the term 4IR, describing it as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”; progress defined by “velocity, scope, and systems impact.’’

New technology will also lead to the development of new digital devices that aid the manufacturing process. The manufacturing industry is highly impacted by the revolutionisation of digital technology 4IR takes over.

A whitepaper published by technology giant, Microsoft states that the manufacturing industry is ahead of the game and has successfully incorporated various digital technology into business processes.

The publication reveals that manufacturing industries are implementing end-to-end digital transformation to achieve objectives including improving efficiency and quality, reducing costs and waste, and creating innovative products and services.

A report published by consulting firm, Deloitte, titled the Future of Manufacturing: Making Things in a Changing World emphasised that manufacturing is no longer only about making physical products.

Shifts in consumer demand, the products themselves, economics of production, and economics of the value change have all increased the complexity of economic environments.

Digital innovation strategies that improve existing practices, or reinvent processes are increasingly vital in business survival as boundaries between manufacturing and technology on one hand, and manufacturing and retail on the other are blurring.

The effects of digitisation can lead to income inequality, unemployment if the lack of digital skills among the workforce is not addressed.


The effects of skill-shortage are even more alarming, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute skills gap and future of work-study revealed that the skills shortage could put US$454 billion of manufacturing GDP at risk in 2028 alone.

On one hand, industries are preparing their workforce to adapt to new and current manufacturing techniques, methods, and technologies. On the other hand, the onus of digital upskilling falls on the employee himself who needs to identify the skills required to keep pace with these changes.

According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution report, “the skill sets required in both old and new occupations will change in most industries and transform how and where people work.”

The World Economic Forum: Jobs of Tomorrow Mapping Opportunity in the New Economy says that the demand for both “digital” and “human” factors is driving growth in the professions of the future, as 4IR takes over.

Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work-study report reveal that early stages of digital transformation seem to create a mismatch between the available workers and the skills necessary to fill open jobs.

Interestingly the study finds that production workers in the manufacturing industry do better with specific programming and computing skills. The report states that employers in the manufacturing industry tend to hire individuals who possess extended computer skills that enable core production workers to program a CNC (computer numeric control) machine for a new job.

Additionally, employers also seek individuals who have the skills in computer-aided design or computer-aided manufacturing as well as working with other engineering or manufacturing software.

In fact, manufacturing executives stated the top five skill sets that could increase significantly in the coming three years due to the influx of automation and advanced technologies are: technology or computer skills, digital skills, programming skills for robots or automation, working with tools and technology, and critical thinking skills.


Human skills are increasingly required as machines take over rote tasks in the wake of 4IR

Critical thinking skills listed as a top-five skill is clearly a misfit when compared to the others on the list. However, its presence on the list signifies the need for human skills in the face of technology transformation.

While digital technology could replace many of the manual or repetitive tasks today’s jobs entail, it would free up space for skills that are uniquely human, often referred to as soft skills.

The World Economic Forum report states that human skills such as critical thinking, creativity and originality, attention to detail, problem-solving, and people management are expected to grow in demand in an increasingly digital world.

The report also says that companies need require that can demonstrate human skills in addition to the digital skills necessary to successfully carry out their roles in automated fields of work.

Manufacturing will require employees who are able to proactively solve problems in production. These include having the ability to identify quality failures in an automated production line and, more importantly, to take actions that remediate the problem in real-time.

Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report also states that many organisations are prioritising humans in the loop by rethinking work architecture, providing training, and making changes to the organisation so that it can leverage technology.

To these organisations, automation is more than just about eliminating routine tasks and cutting costs. Instead, automation is a necessary step in creating value for customers while allowing humans to carry out more meaningful tasks. In fact, human and machine pairing becomes a means of delivering not just products, but also value.