Will Industrial 4.0 Destroy Our Jobs? And Should We be Concerned?

In recent years, a new phase in the industrial revolution which is commonly known as Industrial 4.0 has caused a sensation in the industrial sector and has totally transformed the face of the current market. This paradigm shift has brought a significant impact in our society, especially in the employment sector.

A Paradigm Shift

In fact, every new era of the industrial revolution will completely alter the existing employment trend and societal development. For example, the first industrial revolution, and arguably the one that is most known, introduces mechanization driven by steam power. The mechanization of crafts means that previously difficult tasks requiring a life-long learning and mastering can be done with relative ease. This in-turn means that many masters of crafts are no longer relevant because the craftmanship that came with their skillsets, developed by years of training, can be easily achieved with the help of machines.   

Phases of the Industrial Revolution. Source: https://i0.wp.com/www.accountancysa.org.za

We see this impact as we progress from the 1st industrial revelation to the 2nd, 3rd and now the 4th industrial revolution each phase effectively redefining the trend, value and relevancy of all kinds of jobs. As we step into the 4th revolution, similarly, many expert professions that are valued in previous industrial revolution might become obsolete.

Define Industrial 4.0

As concerning as it may sound, we should worry not. There will always be new job opportunities in every industrial revolution, as the saying goes “When one door closes another opens”. So what kind of jobs can we expect to gain value? Or to word it differently, the big question that will keep on reverberating in people’s mind is “What’s the future job prospects going to be like?”.

Before going further into that, it is crucial to understand what are the reasons that fueled this industrial revolution. Industrial 4.0 was first introduced by Klaus Schwab in 2015 where he proposed that the union of software, hardware and human should be the new era of technologies. Advances in communication and connectivity are actually the basis for this Industrial revolution, hence acting as the framework for the four integral design principles in Industrial 4.0 which are:

Internet of ThingsAbility of devices to connect and communicate with people and vice versa
Information TransparencyAbility to provide operators with comprehensive information for further improvement and decision making
Technical AssistanceAbility of technological facility to assist humans in decision-making, problem-solving and task completion
Decentralized DecisionAbility of cyber-physical systems in decision-making and autonomous task performance

Should We Be Worried?

From these four design principles, it can be seen that the objective of Industrial 4.0 is to improve the connection and communication between humans and machines. For this to be possible, the machines and devices are to be made “smarter” by emulating humans learning process, which we all know as artificial intelligence (AI). However, it will probably take another industrial revolution to fully implement a truly sapient AI for industry applications and hence, the threat of AI to fully replace the human workforce is minimal in the foreseeable future.

Currently, the biggest concern in Industrial 4.0 is not in developing a robust artificial intelligence but in enabling seamless communication between humans and devices. As more devices and machines are being produced, the existing 3G and 4G communication systems are no longer able to support the massive data transfer rate. This inadvertently pushes the development of 5G communication to accommodate more users and faster data transfer speed.

Besides that, with the growing amount of wireless applications users, more bandwidth is required to accommodate multiple users at the same time. Therefore, 5G or even 6G communication will become the focal point in Industrial 4.0 for the foreseeable future.

The Upcoming Employment Trend

In the beginning of the article, we mentioned that with each industrial revolution, there is an impact on employment trend. And since Industry 4.0 depends heavily on the rapid deployment of 5G communication systems, it is expected that the future employment prospect will be centred around communication sectors. One of the vital and prospective jobs is radio-frequency (RF) engineer which specializes in designing, implementing and maintaining wireless communication systems. The 5G network has a different business model than its predecessor as the implementation goes beyond mobile networks as 5G allows private networks implementation with applications in industrial IoT (Internet of Things), enterprise networking and critical communications.

Thus, telecommunication companies no longer hold dominance in communication services as individual enterprises can have their private networks that are specially catered for their sole usages. Currently, many operators are conducting field testing for 5G networks and thus, it is expected that more RF engineer employments will be needed to ensure seamless implementation and deployment of 5G networks. Since private enterprises have their private networks, there will be a possibility in the future for RF engineers to provide consultancy independently. Therefore, freelance RF engineers might be a trend in the future as more 5G networks are deployed.

Brace Yourself

Industrial 4.0 has generated both excitement and concerns. Excitement on the potential it will bring to the industry, concern for the potential shift in the employment trend. As industries around the world scramble to define how Industrial 4.0 looks like to them, perhaps it is a good idea that we also take time to understand more about Industrial 4.0, because survival depends on how well we adapt, and it will be too late to adapt when our job is already rendered obsolete.