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Despite having been coined relatively recently, the concept of the fourth industrial revolution is accepted as a real and irreversible phenomenon set to profoundly change all aspects of business management.

The revolution heralds serious technological, demographic and socioeconomic disruptions affecting just about every aspect of a business, and in the case of human resources, there’s talk that these disruptions will both cause redundancies as well as create entirely new job roles. It is thought that an estimated 65% of children now enrolled in primary education will eventually work in professions that have not as yet been invented.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published the Future of Jobs Report to better understand the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on the workplace, as well as emerging challenges related to attracting, training and retaining professional talent.

In this post, we take a closer look at some of the report’s findings as a sequel to our first article on the impact of the fourth industrial revolution, with a particular emphasis on how human resource departments are set to be affected.

New roles, new talent and constant change

According to research by the World Economic Forum (WEF), it is estimated that changes caused by the fourth industrial revolution between 2015 and 2020 will mean the loss of 7.1 million jobs worldwide (over 60% of which will be in administration) and the creation of 2 million new job positions in the fields of mathematics, computer science, architecture and engineering.

“The Future of Jobs” report methodology

To investigate the impact the fourth industrial revolution on human resources, the WEF surveyed HR executives in 371 large companies who employ a total of 13 million across 9 industries from 15 major developed and emerging countries.

The first challenge facing human resources managers is how to recruit for the new job roles that have been brought about by the fourth industrial revolution.

HR executives surveyed by the WEF expressed unanimous interest in two specific job roles: data analysts and specialized vendors. Most contended that the latter is currently a position  undervalued by businesses and yet vital for marketing products to customers, executing new targets and reaching out to a new generation of salespeople.

After acknowledging the need to incorporate these emerging job titles, the second major challenge human resources managers face is how to attract and retain the best professional talent. There is already a significant shortage of digital and professional technicians and the situation is leading to brutal competition between companies striving to hire them.

The third challenge that HR departments have is keeping teams motivated and willing to learn new skills to take on new responsibilities. Constant changes in their work environment imply that workers must acquire new skills and adjust their work procedures accordingly, and with far greater frequency that at present.

One anticipated change is that robots will do away with certain job roles entirely, while freeing up considerable amounts of time for others, allowing them to work on other things.

Whatever the change, professionals should always be willing to learn new skills and take on new roles, even if they are totally different from what they had been doing previously. And HR managers for their part should be providing employees with as much help as possible during this transition period, including adequate training and materials.

Other tips

In addition to these three recommendations (that is to say (i) creating new positions, (ii) filling them with the right talent and (iii) motivating teams for constant change) WEF’s research also recommends that human resources managers are empowered on the boards of companies, work in collaboration with a data analysis team to help them succeed in their plans and accept more flexible working conditions, offering employees the option of working remotely. 


The WEF report notes that, until now, all previous industrial revolutions have provoked change in the workplace over a span of decades. Yet the huge disruptive potential of this fourth revolution is predicted to occur at unprecedented speed, with the risk that companies do not anticipate and address challenges efficiently and end up incurring huge financial costs.

Despite this finding, the WEF concludes that the latest industrial revolution is still in its embryonic stage and suggests several causes for this apparent contradiction: a lack of understanding of the changes ahead, budgetary constraints, short-term pressure to gain profitability, lack of executive involvement in the process and so on.

If your own organization is at a crossroads, we hope that our pointers will help get things moving. We encourage you to start thinking about how to transform your human resources department so that it can overcome challenges and seize the opportunities that will no doubt emerge from the fourth industrial revolution.

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