Is Education Keeping Up With Industry 4.0?

Aug 25, 2017 1 Min Read


How learning must evolve with the times


It is true to say that the world is changing but what many people don’t realise is that the speed and pace of change is increasing dramatically every year. Throughout most of human history, we have lived in small hunter-gatherer groups, and only in the last 12,000 years or so did our ancestors settle in stable communities to practise agriculture.

Then, roughly 300 years ago, the first industrial revolution began in Britain and triggered the changes that have replaced subsistence with abundance and banished superstition through science.
All of the technology we see around us and all the conveniences we use every day have been created in the span of 10 to 12 human generations, but the pace of change is accelerating as we enter what many perceive to be the fourth industrial revolution.

The first industrial revolution was built on steam power and lasted approximately 150 years; the second industrial revolution lasted roughly a century as humans harnessed the new energies of petrocarbons and electricity; the third industrial revolution has seen information technology shrink incredible processing power from mainframe computers the size of buildings to mobile handsets that connect individuals across continents instantaneously.

Now, we are entering a fourth industrial age that will be based upon a combination of the existing and the new, and it is an age that will bring more significant changes than everything that had gone before.

The fourth industrial age will bring huge changes in food production as the rooftops, walls and open spaces of our cities become farms for new crops developed through biotechnology.

Traditional farming, especially livestock farming, with its wasteful use of land and massive environmental damage will be replaced by protein grown in the laboratory or the sea.

We will find new ways to generate, transmit and store energy as the age of filthy fossil fuels finally comes to an end, to be replaced not just by the energy of the sun, the wind, the waves and the Earth’s core, but also by the many mini-suns of clean and safe fusion reactors.


The dawn of industry 4.0

The factories of the future will be very different from the workplaces of today – in 2015 alone nearly 100,000 robots were deployed in automotive factories and a further 65,000 were installed in factories making electrical and electronic goods, so automation will liberate people from the drudgery of production lines.

At the same time, automated vehicles will completely change the way in which we think about and use transport.

The age of car ownership is coming to a close as the driverless vehicle appears on the roads of the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the USA. Ride hailing firm Uber has already experimented with the driverless taxi in Philadelphia, the driverless bus is already operating in Greece, and driverless support vehicles are being tested at Changi airport in Singapore.

Within 15 years, most of us will no longer “invest” in expensive lumps of metal that sit idle in carparks and garages for 98% of the time; instead, we will use the internet to summon our virtual chariots to take us whenever – and wherever – we need.


At work or at home, the Internet of Things (IoT) will completely change the way in which most of us carry out our basic daily tasks, eliminating the drudgery of shopping, banking and even cooking.

“Intelligent” devices in our kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms and offices will respond to every request and anticipate most of our needs. In the UK, delivery company Ocado has built an automated warehouse that selects and ships more than 2.5 million supermarket items for home delivery daily.

In late 2016, the online retailer Amazon made its first deliveries in the UK using drones. Very soon, the body monitoring devices we wear on our wrists will communicate with our personal digital assistants to plan our weekly menus, and our fridges and microwaves will place automatic orders with retailers, urban farms and processing plants.

Then, drones will deliver fresh pre-prepared dishes to be cooked and served by our household robots. But perhaps most amazing of all is that the plates, cups, cutlery and maybe even the robots that serve us will have been produced in our own homes.

The rise of 3-D printing will make it possible for us to manufacture many household items in kitchens, and within a decade or so we will be able to manufacture many simple machines using a printer and consumable materials delivered automatically to us by drones.

This will completely change the dynamics of manufacturing and will mean that you will be able to make products that are tailored exactly to your wishes in every way you could want. The very same technology is already being used to produce motor vehicles and even to “print” buildings, so the possibilities are almost endless!


The future of humanity

Many people find these changes threatening, but they forget that all the changes outlined above will be accompanied by what is perhaps the biggest change of the fourth industrial revolution – massive demographic shifts.

In most developed countries, the population will begin to decline and will eventually reach a level lower than it is today. These trends are already very evident in places like Singapore and Japan, but they are also emerging in most of Western Europe and even in China; with Malaysia also feeling the change.

This means that even as traditional jobs begin to disappear, the number of job opportunities in the new industries of the future relative to the number of young people will continue to increase.

Also we need to remember that no matter how production and delivery may change, business will still be about people.

Customers will always be people, the organisations that develop, produce and deliver products and services will continue to be staffed by people and, no matter how many robots there may be in a factory, ultimately, the business will still owned, managed and directed by people.

In an age of abundance where every consumer is able to choose the products and services that suit them best, there will be more and different commercial opportunities than there are now.

This means that the young people of the 21st century will have many – and more – job opportunities than their parents and grandparents, and it also means the nature of careers will change.

We can already see the end of the “traditional” career – in the past we tended to believe that most people would train for a particular career, and maybe work for two or three organisations during their whole working life.

This model is already receding and will completely disappear in a few decades. We should not be scared and we should not be upset because this model was only a temporary phenomenon that was with us for five or six generations.

Most people in the future will have multi-track careers and they may even have multiple jobs simultaneously; technology will have the potential to liberate us so that we are able to take on many different forms of employment across our lives and to adapt our careers to reflect our changing priorities.

In the age of automation and smart systems, the key to career success will no longer be based solely on specialist knowledge.

Although knowledge will always be important, life-long career success will be based upon key transferable skills that can be leveraged to succeed in businesses, and organisations that probably do not even exist today.

This obviously also means that the nature of education will need to change and that the role of schools, colleges and universities – especially universities – will, in some ways, be very different in the future.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently published are report entitled “The Future of Jobs” in which it identified the 10 key skills that employers will want in the future:

1. Complex problem-solving
2. Critical thinking
3. Creativity
4. People management
5. Co-ordinating with others
6. Emotional intelligence
7. Judgement and decision-making
8. Service orientation
9. Negotiation
10. Cognitive flexibility

What is immediately obvious about this list is that the skills identified are generic; they are not subject specific, and half of them are soft-skills. This reflects the fact that increasingly employers will want employees who are able to apply a series of skills and attributes flexibly across a range of business scenarios.


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Implicit in this approach is the fact that knowledge will be constantly changing and that the employees of the future will need to use their skills in new ways and keep upgrading and improving their knowledge if they are to be successful.



Education – Keeping up with the times?

In order to meet these requirements it is incumbent on educational institutions that they adapt their curricula to the needs of business.

At the national level, the Higher Education Ministry is embedding a culture of progressive improvement through continuous effort in its soaring upwards initiative under the leadership of minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.

This vision is being translated into various policies and practical steps to underpin the national philosophy of education that will “develop the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious”. Perhaps the most significant of these is the discussion around the introduction learning outcomes that will combine advanced mastery of a degree discipline with the development of key personal, interpersonal and social skills, and virtuous habits across the following eight areas:

1. Knowledge of the degree discipline
2. Practical and psychomotor skills
3. Interpersonal skills and social responsibility
4. Ethics and professionalism
5. Communication and leadership skills
6. Analytical and critical thinking skills
7. Lifelong learning and information management
8. Management skills and entrepreneurial characteristics

It will be immediately apparent that these outcomes cover exactly the same areas as those identified by the WEF, showing that Idris and his team are thinking strategically about how to position Malaysia in the new world economy.

Across the world, forward thinking governments, employers and educational institutions are already beginning to implement the changes that are needed to equip young people for the fourth industrial age.


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Training people for the jobs of the future

Research has shown that, in the last 35 years, there has been a steep decline in the number of jobs where levels of social skills are unimportant.

This is because the modern economy creates wealth through creativity and the most effective way to foster creativity is through collaboration.

These proposals are also grounded upon business psychology research that has identified the factors that are critical for high job performance and organisational success.

In my professional life as an entrepreneur, banker and business leader these were the attributes I looked for when hiring and these were the areas we focused on to develop high-performing team members.

These are the areas which modern universities should be developing in their students and it also means that young people need to realise that it is important for them to take the lead and make decisions; instead of always being told what to do, successful individuals will need to initiate action, give direction and take responsibility.

It will also be essential to have the interpersonal skills to work closely with others in supportive and cooperative relationships, showing respect and positive regard for colleagues and having the sensitivity to work well with transnational, multi-ethnic, gender-balanced work teams.

The customer will continue to be king and queen, but 21st century graduates will need to understand that everybody is a customer and this means having the skills to persuade and influence people.

In a truly global market, every worker needs to be focused on customer satisfaction, ensuring that a quality service or product is always delivered to the agreed standards – on cost, and on time.

This will also require the capacity for inner harmony and balance, the ability to manage pressure, and to cope with those times when things go wrong.


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Adapting is what we as people do best

The lesson of evolution is that success comes from adaptability and flexibility, so the graduates of the future will need to bend to change and be resilient in the face of stress.

However, we also should be clear that flexibility is not the same as having low moral standards because truly successful people are marked by their integrity, ethical behaviour and clear personal values. In this century, successful people will be upright in intentions and behaviour; they will put other people first and show moral leadership for their organisation and nation.

Nevertheless, adaptability will mean being open to new ideas and experiences, and it will also be for the individual to take responsibility for lifelong learning opportunities. This may mean returning to university three, four or more times – sometimes as student – but also as a teacher and a researcher.

Some people will view these changes with apprehension, but this is a wonderful time to be alive. The power of technology is creating truly global markets on a scale that has not been seen since the early 1900s as once again economies are becoming fully integrated and physical, and political borders are shrinking away.

Malaysia is exceptionally well-placed to benefit from the new global economy. Physically, Malaysia is at the crossroads of the world’s trade routes. Intellectually and culturally Malaysia has strong links with all of the world’s major trading blocs, and Mother Nature has gifted Malaysia with abundant natural resources and a talented population.

The growing partnership between government, business and tertiary educational institutions means that young Malaysians will be equipped with the knowledge and transferrable skills needed for success at a time of great opportunity, and I have no doubt that Malaysia and its young people will continue soaring upwards to a successful future.


Professor Hew Gill joined Sunway University as head of the Psychology Department after a successful multi-track career as an entrepreneur, public servant, banker, senior leader and business consultant. He is a frequent broadcaster and sought-after public speaker on a range of business and psychological subjects, and is always interested in commercial research and consultancy projects. To engage with Hew, e-mail us at

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