Barry Johnson assesses the attributes learning professionals need to help their organisations succeed in a time of technological disruption

In 2013, Frey and Osborne published The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation? Others have done similar fourth industrial revolution (4IR) analyses. The conclusion is that L&D is a crucial function in organisations that are investing in advancing technologies. Companies also need to invest in those people in danger of being made redundant.

Analysis of 702 occupations suggests that 47 per cent of all US jobs are at high risk of automation. The 4IR will require new human jobs that will, in the main, require learning.

The engagement of 4IR technologies are essential for our international trade and national GDP – we are a trading nation. But if unemployment occurs on a large scale, many will lose their incomes, aggregate product demand will decrease and the economy would be plunged into a demand-deficient decline. The firms that laid off their workers will see their sales fall, so computerised systems and robotics might not make companies better off. They have an interest in investing in staff that may be made redundant.

The 4IR could place policymakers in a position where conventional wisdom is insufficient. The UK’s 4IR participation rate is currently more than 75 per cent, but at a relatively early-stage level. What should policymakers do before the main changes occur?

There are two options: give a person a fish, or teach a person to fish. Giving a person a fish might offer time for them to learn, but would that work? The benefits of a basic income might outweigh the costs, but there is no objective framework to calculate this. The second option is for policymakers to invest in programmes that boost the human capital of workers across the economy – particularly those whose jobs are at risk of being automated.

Given these organisational needs, it seems a requirement that all subject experts involved in L&D have the following assessed skills:

  • The ability to conduct in-industry learning needs analysis

  • Setting learning objectives for the learning facilitator and matching them to learner objectives

  • Designing learning events for the specific learning target populations, including Socratic methods that enable integration with the individual learner’s previous knowledge and skills, and using social learning

  • Presentation skills, including PowerPoint and video

  • Group and individual simulations using methods such as Kolb’s four-stage method

  • Using Skinnerian methods to reinforce learning

  • Using the 70:20:10 principle to move and reinforce the off-the-job learning to on-the-job learning

The L&D profession is vital to the success of this industrial revolution. Only if more learning facilitation is nationally applied to higher professional standards than are currently observable, and to populations in need of employment, can the UK compete with and out-perform other nations. In times of crisis and attack we have always risen to the challenge. We are in international competition and collaboration. Action is needed – now.

Barry Johnson is a non-executive director at Learning Partners