The impact of Industry 4.0 on HR professionals


Our world is always changing. Just look at how industry has evolved: from the first industrial revolution in the late 18th century with steam power and mechanisation, the second starting in the late 19th century with electricity and leading to assembly lines, and the third starting in the mid-20th century, powered by new information technology and automation.

Now we have embarked on Industry 4.0 – the era of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). Digitisation is advancing at such a rapid pace that businesses must be prepared for the many changes that technology poses.

Our world today is becoming more volatile because of rapid changes, more uncertain with unknown outcomes, more complex with many interconnected parts, and more ambiguous with a lack of clarity. Naturally the business world has embraced an acronym to describe it: VUCA.

Gone are the days where we can stick to the same old ways that have worked for decades, because many of them may no longer be relevant.

We have seen over the decades that even the biggest and most successful organisations can fall hard and fail if they refuse to do anything about the changes in the world. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, once said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence. It is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Meanwhile, we are seeing the emergence and triumph of big players that refuse to look back at the old ways, such as Amazon, Alibaba and Airbnb. They have pushed beyond their own limits and have taken advantage of change.

Recent changes have disrupted many industries, businesses and even business functions such as marketing. The Human Resources (HR) profession is also beginning to feel the effects of the rapid pace of change.

In the past, HR professionals focused on personnel functions: recruitment, payroll administration, training and development plans, and other administrative tasks. Today, HR people cannot depend only on the traditional approach. They must transform and embrace HR 4.0. What follows is a look at what that means for HR professionals.

First, HR people must be able to identify the skills needed for the industry in which their organisation is active. Digitisation, for example, definitely demands a new kind of skill set that can be applied in many fields. HR professionals must identify what skill sets the workforce and organisation they serve is currently lacking.

Second, HR must become more digitally focused. In order to keep ahead of competitors — who are almost certainly making similar changes — HR professionals need to keep up with technological trends as well.

Whether it is for the sake of knowledge to understand what is in the market, or because the organisation wants to adopt some new technologies, it is especially important for HR professionals to understand technological trends.

Third, HR must reconsider how they network and interact. HR professionals can no longer rely on the old ways of interaction — they must change the way they communicate with internal and external clients. Again, with technology in mind, it’s time to consider other new and effective communication tools.

HR professionals these days are dealing with younger people in the workforce for whom digital communication is as natural as breathing. So it’s important to understand their habits, especially when it’s time for recruitment.

The challenges the HR profession faces in Industry 4.0 is huge amount of data we have, the rapidity of change, new business models and even smart services enabled by digital tools. Just as organisations as a whole are adapting, HR must accept that the decisions that affect the people in their organisation are shifting from the HR department to more individual departments, teams and even individuals themselves.

In addition to coping with the change within their own function, HR departments will have to juggle the challenge of retraining other business functions in the organisation on how to operate in the new world. HR professionals really need to step up their game.

The key to succeeding today lies in our people. We will never be able to control the changes in our world but what you can control is how you can lead your people to stay ahead of these changes.


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