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The Effectiveness-Lab

The new skills dilemma – the 4th revolution Series 2 of 2

So, we ended Series 1 last week asking what needed doing to stem the effects of the so-called 4th revolution. A revolution that is changing the manner in which labour is trained and deployed, the skills demand pattern, and how both kids and adults get skilled – read training be it at K-12, but even more critical, colleges and universities

Are we losing the plot?

Last weeks’ blog alluded to:

  • Artificial intelligence, Robotics, and Automation transforming the skills set landscape.
  • That the so-called hard skills shall be delivered by automated computer processes.
  • It also discussed the administrative and accounting roles that are getting automated at a breakneck rate.
  • Factory floor jobs, for the so-called technicians and engineers, being done by robots.
  • The internet of things causing its own disruption

Clearly, both low-level and high-end hard skills jobs are changing or disappearing

The 4th revolution is akin to a plague that if not dealt with well, shall render irrelevant and redundant university and other smaller college graduates.

The jobs that have been spared the adverse effects of the 4th Revolution are those that require soft skills – computers and AI code don’t do them well. These jobs need skills like: Emotional intelligence, Collaboration, Understanding context, and Empathy – this is stuff that machines, however smart they are, can’t do well.

Interesting enough, the above is the skill-type that isn’t traditionally taught at college, and if taught, is not dealt with very well. Companies don’t normally consider soft skills a critical part of the skills toolbox; they don’t impact, in a tangible manner, bottom line results – and ultimately, our end of year bonus.

Even medical doctors, yes doctors, shall not be spared – apparently, there have been attempts, and pretty successful ones at that, to code medical practice and have medicine practiced by a computer. By the way, how many times have you gone to Google for a quick medical consultation? Do you realize that twenty years ago, this was a paid service at the clinic?

We have done development for the better part of our professional lives, and we were amazed to read and learn that even in development – ICT and soft-kills will become a vital piece of the new skills jigsaw. It’s not hard skills in programme-design and emergency relief management. Yes, the latter abilities may still be needed, but in tandem, with the new primary-skills.

How did it get to this point?

  • Lousy education economics – the world has left the job of defining and imparting skills to universities and colleges; leading industry players, that understood what skills gaps need plugging, have not had enough influence on the supply side of education. An immediate consequence of the latter is that skills gaps trends haven’t been integrated into the education supply side discourse
  • Governments haven’t done enough – simple!
  • A multi-pronged and systemic problem that needs a multi-stakeholder approach has most of its solutions so far coming from silo’d frameworks. K-12 schools, Universities, Industry, and Nation-states are all attempting fixes but not coming together to look at the challenges in a holistic manner. We can’t help but allude to our mother Uganda, and its Coca-Cola degree as an example of a struggling and silo’d approach in East Africa
  • Organisations haven’t adequately addressed man-power planning; a myopic approach that looks at the now and not the future is prevalent. Organisations have given in to short-term shareholder pressure and are hiring skills for tomorrow as opposed to hiring skills for the future. Would your firm consider hiring a computer whizz kid today even if they didn’t make it to college?

The solution?

  1. Well, companies have to invest in the retraining of its current staff. Firms have what they have currently for employees; that batch of employees can’t be changed overnight. And even if firms opted to have all of the current employees go home, they may not have enough viable replacements on the market. It’s a delicate balancing act of keeping the show on the road with the current skills while concurrently understanding and preparing for the future.  Talent development for the future should be a subject, and a permanent one at that – in corporate boardrooms
  2. The current approach to labour deployment at firms has to change – employers have to embrace more job rotation by its employees. And job rotation requires multi-skill development capabilities both at the company, industry and national (university) level. We can’t train for one or two skills any longer, and worse of all, if they are hard.
  3. Instead, individuals should be taught to think differently about learning – it’s training the future labour force in ideology/philosophy, i.e., preparing kids to think creatively and become comfortable with the fact that skills shall have a very short shelf-life and that they have to learn for life (LLL). That they need to have a strong human/soft side
  4. Like the UN that was designed to solve an intractable world challenge – we need a multi-stakeholder approach to address the 4th revolution challenge. Industries, universities, governments, and individuals need to work together to craft appropriate responses to the new skills challenge. Silo’d solutions aren’t sustainable and won’t solve the problem
  5. Universities need to change – and change significantly. We at the Effectiveness lab have harped on and on and on on this particular aspect. They need to be more outward than inward facing
  6. Governments should re-engineer education models. The business as usual approach won’t work.
  7. Here in East Africa – the colonial education legacy has to be abandoned or else, the 90% and growing university graduate unemployment may continue unabated

As we conclude this blog, we suspect that individuals, especially those of us that are parents to Z-generation kids, are asking what they have to do to address the skills challenge. The truth is, not much more than we may have done already. Effective solutions to the 4th Revolution skills challenge have to be designed at the macro and not micro level


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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