"Brassed Off": Industry 4.0 vs. Automation

“Brassed Off”: Industry 4.0 vs. Automation

I’m grateful once again to Mark Carney for his words as reported in The Times recently (subscription may be required).

The governor of the bank of England makes some salient points about the effect of the fourth industrial revolution in terms of the dramatic changes it will have in the workplace. As one of relatively few high-profile spokespersons regularly quoted on the issue, I think it is a good thing that he speaks openly about the scale of change.

In this particular speech, Mr Carney talked about a “substantial skills mismatch” in the future, which could lead to rising unemployment, inequality and adverse outcomes for the economy. He also spoke of about 10% of jobs in the UK being at threat to the industrial revolution. It’s a point recently evidenced by World Economic Forum, that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in new job types that don’t yet exist.

Without a crystal ball, it is hard to know how accurate this prediction is. In industry, we see automation removing less skilled jobs and we see the need for more skilled workers rise – but I digress. Mr. Carney spoke about a “quaternary” level of education. That fourth level of education, he reasoned, would be to re-skill or re-educate people in the mid-career so that they remained employable for their working life.

The social change that Mr. Carney speaks of, associated with Industry 4.0, will not be the first social change brought about by increased levels of automation of course – though it may be the first to fundamentally change the nature of work in jobs like banking, medicine or law. Certainly the biggest change since these sectors were initially computerised.

I was reminded of a previous cycle of workplace change leading to cultural change by my 10-year-old son during his summer holiday. Now, precocious as he is, he didn’t happen to be musing about the socio-economic dynamics of big-data in the workforce of a developed nation. He’s only 10!

Actually, the film “Brassed Off” was on TV and he asked me what a miner is. “Brassed Off”, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, is a film about a colliery band facing the closure of the local mine.

I explained what a miner’s job was, and how large parts of Wales and northern England were reliant on mining, and how his own family had in previous generations been miners. I also explained how hard the work was, how miners typically had just one day off per week, and why they seemed to go to the pub most days!

Surprised at just how tough the life was, he said “Well, it sounds like you’d get very well paid though.” It made no sense to him, and frankly was hard to explain, that the job wasn’t well paid, and for many wasn’t highly skilled.

The social change in former mining communities is worth considering in the light of various predictions regarding employment as a result of Industry 4.0. As Mark Carney points out, the revolution will “eventually boost wages, productivity and lead to new types of job in the long run”, just as can be seen in many former mining communities.

But it would be hard to argue that the hardship suffered by those communities is something that should be expected or accepted as part of the fourth industrial revolution.

In terms of Industry, as I mentioned, automation is taking away unskilled repetitive tasks and replacing them with more skilled, better paid roles. And industry has a skills shortage. For any industrial company, this means that their most important asset is their workforce, and investing in it to keep it skilled-up for the industry 4.0 journey is arguably the most important 4IR investment that can be made.

As for the wider jobs market of the future, perhaps a fourth, mid-career level of education is a good idea; I hope that, as we’re starting to understand with primary, secondary and tertiary levels, a focus on the right skillsets for future employment includes plenty of modern engineering qualifications, since it seems highly likely to be the skillset most prized in the Industry 4.0 era.

Mark Bottomley
Posted 8 October 2018 By Mark Bottomley, Sales Director, UK, Rockwell Automation
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