Cognitive readiness vital for Industry 4.0 workers

I fully support and congratulate the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for embarking on a study as Singapore enters Industry 4.0 (Big study to find out how workers can be matched to future jobs; Sept 6).

Industry 4.0 encapsulates the idea of smart factories, in which machines are augmented with Web connectivity and connected to a system that can visualise the entire production chain and make decisions on its own.

Industry 4.0's primary appeal lies in its ability to act as an economic game changer, which would open up a myriad of opportunities for companies to revamp or create entirely new offerings and business models.

The adoption of Industry 4.0 will result in the elimination of lower-skilled jobs through automation, and the increase in productivity could result in an overall reduction in the number of jobs available.

While the findings of the NTUC study will allow organisations to provide training programmes with the relevant skills and competencies that would be crucial for workers to succeed in this new workplace, I believe the focus should also be on educating employers and the leadership team on how this latest industrial revolution would affect their businesses and sustainability.

Digitisation has an impact on all organisations across industries.

In each case, the impact is different, which makes it essential for companies to have a good understanding of what they face and how their workers should be reskilled to meet the challenges.

The biggest challenge is not technology but human capital.

Research by the World Economic Forum, Centre for Executive Education and others have identified creativity, critical thinking, complex problem solving and emotional and social intelligence - collectively known as cognitive readiness competencies - among the top skills workers will need in Industry 4.0, as this is where computer algorithms and robots fall short.

Workers will need to shift their focus to the things machines cannot do, which include the ability to read people's emotions and react accordingly or think creatively.

Robots and artificial intelligence may help us to be faster, but they cannot be as creative as humans.

As they become smarter, we need to use different human or relationship management skills to be able to manage them and work side by side with them.

With such a shift in skill requirements, the basic education level and teaching models are bound to change.

Sattar Bawany (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2018, with the headline 'Cognitive readiness vital for Industry 4.0 workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe