The ways in which Industry 4.0 and digital transformation will revolutionize the world are as many and as diverse as the ways in which the computer revolution did – and continues to do.
But there are difficulties in terms of the human factor when any firm – let alone a whole industry – prepares for an inevitable digital transformation into new ways of doing things. Either each company has to train its workforce individually in both the way that digital transformation will work within that company, driving business to in-person and increasingly online training companies to service specific transformations and technologies. Or there needs to be an increased development of Industry 4.0 awareness in schools and colleges, so that by the time pupils enter the workforce, they’re up to speed with the principles of digital transformation and Industry 4.0. Or, just possibly, both of these things need to happen at once.
The Learning Cycle
This mirrors what happened with the computer revolution. While there were extremely basic, more or less computer recognition classes in US high schools as far back as the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1980s – after Macs had become a thing and the price point to get your hands on one was beginning to drop from the entirely astronomical to the merely scandalous – that computer science became a thing in most mainstream high schools. Meanwhile, companies that were trying to get ahead of the computer revolution would offer their own in-house training programs to help people make the shift from the analog to the digital era.
There are of course a handful of problems with trying to retrofit this example to the world of digital transformation. Chief among the issues is the idea of there being any period where the process stands still. To teach children and college students about the principles of digital transformation, it would be really useful if digital transformation would stand still for a little while, so that the information taught could still be remotely relevant by the time the pupils hit the workforce. The point about which is that the very idea is contrary to the nature of digital transformation. It’s a process that moves forward, and fast.
The Redundancy Clock
In the normal schedules of school or college, by the time you could train teachers or professors a syllabus on digital transformation and get them to deliver it, it would be irrelevant and out of date. Not to mention the delay between any student graduating in the subject and encountering it in the real world.
That seems to leave two main options – or maybe three, at a push.
If we’re educating young people in digital transformation within the school or college setting, one of two things needs to happen. Potentially, both the final year of a high school computer syllabus could include some philosophical underpinning in what digital transformation might look like in a whole range of environments, staying in areas that are vague enough to be proof against an ever-evolving business reality. That would arguably be useless in the real world, but it would be a start in terms of giving young people who might not have encountered it in their day-to-day lives an inkling of where Industry 4.0 has come from, and some of the ways digital transformation has been applied in some important test cases.
So far, so timeless, so teachable – but arguably, so redundant.
The Internship Model
If we want students to learn how to get involved in digital transformation in the real world, we’re looking at something a lot more complex in terms of infrastructure, to combat the redundancy clock of any syllabus in coding, strategic development and other aspects of digital transformation.
We’d be looking at either region-specific hothouse courses, delivered either by or in conjunction with local industries that are in the process of breaking into Industry 4.0, with a mind to filling local vacancies in particular firms or sectors, or national hothouse scholarships run by major technology businesses, allowing for the specialization of skills and learning in elements of digital transformation that would be of particular interest to those tech businesses.
In essence, we’d be looking at an internship approach to Industry 4.0 and digital transformation – a partnership, in essence, between the learning establishment and the potential employer.
The Internal Rollout
Or, more likely, each company would need to develop a rolling program of internal training in the process of applying Industry 4.0 to its own sphere and its own processes specifically.
That has the bonus of being applicable not only to incoming or project-specific staff, but existing staff too, allowing the current workforce an initial, basic level of learning in terms of what digital transformation has been, what it is at the time of teaching, and how the next phase of the process is going to go within the company. That means companies can bring hearts and minds with them – often an overlooked step in applying digital transformation to a work culture. Also, once the initial training is done, some fear-beating hands-on experience could be offered without unnecessary risk either to the staff or the project, to ensure that as the process rolls into new phases, both existing staff and newcomers feel more at ease with it – part of the process, rather than left behind by an enforced upgrade.
While a change in the educational curriculum of schools and colleges would probably require governmental action, there’s nothing to stop the tech community rolling out the second two ideas – hothouses for new workers coming into the industry, either through outreach to colleges or through the establishment of company-specific internships, and the in-company rollout of fear-beating training to existing and new staff.
It will take investment, it will take commitment, and it will take time. The question for the tech industry is whether it would prefer to put its money where its transformation is, or wait to deal with the culture shock as staff arrive and adapt through the process of osmosis. Investment would seem to be both the responsible and the self-serving response here.
But the clock is ticking.
2 December 2022
1 December 2022