The New Industrial Revolution: Tackling the future of work

Today, we stand at the threshold of the fourth Industrial Revolution. What should workers expect and how can they prepare? Banner image: Shutterstock/ Elenamiv

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Some years ago, I stumbled across a 1960s Time magazine article speculating that by the turn of the millennium, the lion’s share of human work would be carried out by computers and robots, ushering in a new era of leisure for humanity. The conclusion: by the year 2000 we would have more spare time on our hands than we would be able to handle. I don’t know about you, but I can safely assume that all of us are busier than ever at work—and tethered to it at all hours of the day, every day—through technology.

The Time article wasn’t entirely without merit; after all, it correctly predicted a coming age of electronics and information technology what we now know as the third industrial revolution. Notwithstanding, it woefully missed the mark where human labour is concerned. While it is true that technology displaced an untold number of tasks formerly carried out by workers, erasing jobs and impacting millions, it’s also true that a new, emerging economy spawned unprecedented opportunity that benefited millions more. The point was and remains that progress constitutes inevitable change. Change is the one constant that has defined us down through human evolution. Yet, it’s also the one thing we typically resist with trepidation and anxiety. It is perplexing given the role that change has played in unlocking human potential throughout our history as a species.

Read the OECD Policy Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact of AI on the labour market: is this time different? by Marguerita Lane, Labour Market Economist, OECD  

Read the OECD Policy Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19): The impact of AI on the labour market: is this time different? by Marguerita Lane, Labour Market Economist, OECD  

Today, we stand at the threshold of a fourth industrial revolution another wave of change and myriad challenges that come with it. Only this time, technological advances predict that the rate and scope of change wrought on an ill-prepared world could be cataclysmic for an unsuspecting work force. It needn’t be so. We now have at our disposal technologies that can help guide government, industry and workers alike in preparing for the many workplace challenges that lie ahead. This allows us to begin making the necessary adjustments today, easing our transition to a very different workplace tomorrow. This tsunami of change can and will have profound effects on how we educate our children for jobs that don’t yet exist; how we re-skill existing work forces; and how we move ahead towards a robust, productive, efficient and equitable economic future for all.

This new, emergent world means global leaders, industrialists, organised labour leaders, educators and workers alike need to take stock, plan and execute accordingly. Failure to do so risks socio-economic havoc, to say nothing of geopolitics; former Prime Minister Winston Churchill once observed that failure to heed history’s lessons destines us to repeat it. A compelling case in point is that as I write of a fourth industrial revolution, almost a billion people lack access to electricity, a cornerstone of economic history’s second industrial revolution. Global leadership needs to step up its game. Progress needn’t—and arguably shouldn’t—be the sole purview of an exclusive few. Indeed, the wealthy bear a weightier responsibility to share these capabilities more widely.

In a world characterised by famine, war, environmental disasters, disinformation, cyber piracy and now a global pandemic, which engenders unforeseen and unprecedented fiscal, political, and diplomatic challenges along the road ahead, the need for the equitable sharing of critical intellectual resources is greater than ever. American web entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian once remarked, “To join in the (first) industrial revolution, you needed to open a factory. In the internet revolution, you need to open a laptop”. From this point onwards, we’re entering the workplace revolution: what we’ll need to open, above all else, are our eyes, hearts and minds.

Read more on the Forum Network: Micro-credentials: The new frontier of adult education and training by James Robson, Deputy Director of Centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance, Oxford University

Find out more about the OECD Youth projects I Am the Future of Work – Now What?! and Youthwise


Related Topics

Future of Education & Skills Tackling COVID-19 Future of Work

Sean Hinton

CEO & Founder, SkyHive

Sean Hinton is CEO & founder of SkyHive, celebrated by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer for its transformative application of artificial intelligence (AI) in democratizing labour opportunities globally. Sean is a recognized thought leader and innovator in labor economics and the Future of Work. He is the Co-Chair of the Entrepreneurs Circle of the Canadian American Business Council (CABC), a member of OECD's Future of Work Forum Engagement Group, and a member of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), one of the most extensive collaborations on AI policy and the first international standard for AI.

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Comments

Go to the profile of Elizabeth Villagomez
25 days ago

Very interesting article, but it fails to factor in one of the most important types of work, which is unpaid and without which humanity would cease to exist: unpaid care work which mostly falls on the shoulders of women across the world. The continued sidelining of this element for human reproduction can no longer take a back seat in the future of work.