Did you know that we are in the so-called fourth Industrial Revolution?
The first Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to 1840. The second industrial revolution came in the early 20th century when Henry Ford mastered the moving assembly line and ushered in the age of mass production. The third industrial revolution, the age of digital technology, began in the late 20th century and has ushered in another set of major changes in the workplace.
Fast forward to today. Technological change is occurring so quickly that the human component cannot keep up. It wasn’t that long ago (200 years) that the “Luddites”, 19th-century English textile workers, were protesting against newly developed labor-economizing technologies. Today employers are struggling to fill jobs with skilled workers capable of handling the rapidly changing technological advancements.
But even greater change is coming, according to Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution (2016). He sees this next revolution as based on three sets of megatrends: physical, digital and biological (e.g. mobile supercomputing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, neuro-technological brain enhancements, genetic editing).
Mr. Schwab proposes that “The fourth industrial revolution is not only changing what we do but also who we are.” He believes that “….the more digital and high-tech the world becomes, the greater the need to still feel the human touch, nurtured by close relationships and social connections.”
Let’s think about what we want from the time we spend at work, which is roughly 30-40% of our waking hours. $$ of course. But is that it? Is it also about a sense of worth to our lives? A purpose to our existence? Recognition of our value? Social interchange?
To answer this we can look to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ……..
Maslow suggested that our higher level needs beyond food, shelter, safety and security are social needs, self-worth and personal growth. Jobs/careers/vocations can easily satisfy the lower level needs, but may not satisfy the higher level needs.
In a November 2011 article in Psychology Today entitled “Social Networks: What Maslow Misses”, Pamela Rutledge points out that Maslow’s model misses the role of social connection. She argues that “…the problem with Maslow’s hierarchy [is that] none of these needs — starting with basic survival on up — are possible without social connection and collaboration.” In other words, the satisfaction of social needs is the key.
I believe that the role of Human Resources in meeting the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution is even greater than it was in the previous revolutions because more than ever the focus needs to be on the higher end of the Maslow pyramid, especially with respect to social interactions. With management focused on the day to day and long-term needs of the organization, HR’s role is to focus on the needs of the employees and how to keep them engaged in the best interests of the organization.
In my next post, I will explore the role of HR in the new era, reflecting on my past experiences.