The 4th Industrial Revolution – An HR headache? by Maropeng Sebothoma

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There is now more business talk and coverage around the fourth industrial revolution than ever before. How many Human Resources Professionals are having sleepless nights about how to direct the implications of Artificial Intelligence? How does it affect the operations of the business and also the profession? Adina Tarry in an article published in July 2018, made reference that “the 4thtechnological revolution has redefined the world of work. A new set of skills need to be defined and made available to the organisations of the future and this challenges the HR function to operate in a significantly more complex, interconnected, unpredictable and evolving environment”. Are things changing at a speed that Human Resources (HR) professional can adapt or are HR Professionals at the forefront of facilitating the change?

The rapid up and usage of artificial intelligence and robotics no longer forms part of the long term but rather a short term perspective. What is the impact of robotics on how we deal with the challenges? Without referring to any empirical studies, digitalisation is here to stay and poses systematic challenges to human intelligence, although new opportunities will emerge if managed carefully.  Now, the question is how it affects the profession of HR. How will change management be implemented within the profession and who will expedite such?

In democratic dispensation and modern countries, taxation remains the main source for financing public expenditure of the state.Taxes are levied to help raise the standard of living in a country.  Tax Revenue is extracted from sources such as individuals, large corporates, public enterprises, trade, royalties on natural resources and/or foreign aid etc. There is little global consensus about how to regulate the impact of technologies or indeed whether they should be regulated at all. However, Tax authorities and experts have already embarked on engagements about possibilities of robotic taxation and related tax collection.  Is that another utopian?

 In the business sector, productivity improvements through digitalisation are gaining more attraction than ever before. An increasing number of companies have responded to opportunities brought through artificial intelligence.“Beyond labour savings, advances in AI have the potential to boost total factor productivity”. Simultaneously, Trade Unions/ organised labour movements are continuously raising concerns about possible job losses and unemployment.

Certainly, the HR Professionals need to step up and take  charge on aspects of our terrain in world of work. In South Africa the national development plan was crafted as vision 2030 for the country and we just few years from there. If digitalisation is here to stay, are we heeding to a universal employee? Beyond 2030, how will a universal worker look like?  At one point or another, a universal employee interacts with technology based tools / equipment. Of course, it is scary to go into the unknown; the 4thindustrial revolution has brought some anxieties to all professions.  However, we must come out and cease opportunity to navigate and “manage the present from the future”.

An employee of the future is multi-faceted with competencies that are not only core to the tasks at hand but ability to respond broadly with critical capabilities in information technology, analytics and law.  So, evidently the competency frameworks and libraries which form part of the HR standards to inform job design, workforce planning and the entire HR value chain and employee life cycle are affected and maybe out-dated. Proactive Change management is needed.

Through various business models and scholastic articles, there is no doubt that HR is the custodian of change management.  At all professional categories and various levels in the organisations, change management remains a critical competency for leveraging business transformation and performance.  So in approaching and dealing with the 4thIndustrial revolution, there is an inexcusable need for proactive change strategies that are essential to ensure that we manage the future.

By: Maropeng Sebothoma (Chairperson – Audit Council: SABPP)