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Industry 4.0 – the transformation of the technology sector

Industry 4.0, industry X.0, the fourth industrial revolution, the post-digital age. 

However you refer to it, it’s clear that we are moving to a time where technology advances beyond the means of physical production. Tech innovation has begun to blur the lines between physical, digital and biological industries, which may soon be indistinguishable.

The first industrial revolution centred on the use of water and steam power for production. The second used electrical power to create mass production. The third capitalised on electronics and information technology to introduce automation into production.

Industry 4.0 is building on the automation of the third revolution. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies, supported by interconnectivity, machine learning and real-time data. All of this is accelerating at such an unprecedented rate and is affecting all industries.

We’ve now reached the reality of machines creating virtual replicas of the physical world. These replicas can virtually test scenarios in order to establish a variety of outcomes in real-time that can be used to make decisions.

Billions of people are connected digitally using mobile phones, with almost unlimited storage capacity and processing power, which will only increase exponentially with the rise of 5G, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology and quantum computing.

We’re already witnessing the evolution of self-driving cars, drones, virtual assistants and, 3D printing. Interestingly, these developments are aligned to our fundamental goals as humans; innovation, creation and constant progression.

With resources becoming scarce and greater awareness of the damage that plastics and other materials have on the environment, the idea that IT and advancements such as 3D printing can recover materials and feed them back into the economy, is key to sustainability.

So what does this mean for businesses?

Machines are operating automatically with the ability to self-monitor, analyse and communicate with each other, as well as their human co-workers. The fact that I can even refer to a machine as a ‘co-worker’ is indicative of just how much machines are impacting the workplace.

There is no denying that industry 4.0 will also have an impact on the jobs market. The two main concerns are roles disappearing due to the rise of automation, and the change to talent and skills demands.

In the short-term, I don't see a large number of jobs disappearing due to automation. Companies will have to adjust to any automated changes and are more likely to re-allocate staff to find efficiencies. If you look at the self-checkouts in supermarkets as an example, there’s often less people needed at the checkouts, so more can be deployed elsewhere.

In the medium to long-term, I think we will see some roles disappear as automation becomes embedded in our daily lives. At the moment, there is still only a small uptake on a lot of accessible automation. It will only fully infiltrate the jobs market when organisations are comfortable with its benefits. However, it will be vital for companies to embrace industry 4.0, and to ensure people are upskilled into roles where they can add value.

Who is safe?

The safest jobs are those that require creativity, human skills or personal interaction. We are many years away from customers being comfortable with having detailed conversations with an automated machine about what car to buy or where to go on holiday.

The roles that have been increasing, and are likely to increase more, are in areas like AI development and data science. Based on reed.co.uk data, the number of organisations advertising for data science roles has increased by 612% since 2015. We are also expecting to see more maintenance and support roles, as new systems will always need to be monitored, fixed and improved.

Despite these changes to the jobs market, automation is currently being used as an efficiency, and is often being backed up and checked by humans. Soft skills are the one element that automation is always going to struggle to replicate. The tech market is fast moving and ever changing, this isn't new, so most IT professionals are always working on upskilling themselves to stay up to date.

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