Is the Fourth Industrial Revolution a Silver Lining? 


Dramatic disruptions like the coronavirus pandemic can lead to permanent shifts in how we work.

Now weeks into the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic crisis hitting at the global, national, local and personal levels, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is proving to be a blessing in disguise for millions of workers around the world. 

You may be wondering how an industrial revolution could be a “silver lining” amidst a global health crisis, so let me explain. We are all now witnessing the tragic health toll combined with the devastating financial impact on retail, hospitality and travel jobs around the world due to COVID-19, while at the same time, we are also seeing further evidence of a more fortunate segment of worker who can work from home. This latter group of remote-enabled workers is facing fewer professional impacts to their jobs, lesser financial impact to their income, and lower health risks due to reduced exposure than those workers who are required to work onsite and/or face-to-face with their customers and clientele. 

What enables remote-enabled workers is the recent confluence of trends labeled the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR. The 4IR is described as the intersection of several trends or factors: the internet of things, cloud computing, automation technologies and high-speed connectivity or networking. These factors contributed to remote operations because they are each inherently remote or decentralized by nature. Therefore, jobs associated with remote operations involving IoT, cloud, automation and connectivity have been designed to work cost-effectively and efficiently from home and/or remote locations. 

Which leads us to the two reasons why the 4IR should be viewed as a silver lining during this time of crisis: first, because the 4IR allows us to recognize the value of remote operations, and second, it provides us with action items for the future. 

To elaborate more, we should recognize that remote operations can help individuals to minimize career/financial/health risks, provide continuity of service to telemedicine and public safety for citizens locally, enable cyber and critical infrastructure security at the national level, and strengthen global supply chains impacting us all. 

The 4IR and remote operations help us justify needed investments in expanding high-speed internet connectivity to rural locations, expanding use of online schooling and online professional continued education, and injecting more IT-related content into a broader range of standard education curricula. The recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act provides billions in dollars of funding for a multitude of programs that will raise demand for remote operations and will foster educating more online and cyber-savvy workers in telehealth and education fields. 

A recent article in FastCompany advised job seekers to, “Think broadly: There is no shame in a paying job of any kind, especially during a pandemic. And remember this is an excellent time to skill up. Want to learn to code? Or take a crack at the GRE? Or pick up an online credential? ‘Tis the season.”

Similarly, an excerpt from a CNBC article stated, “Using technology to network and taking extra courses now can help these graduates hit the ground running once things get back normal. For the 2019–2020 academic year, there will be a total of 3,898,000 college graduates in the United States. Continue to increase your knowledge. Online courses can be affordable, if not free, and will push your knowledge beyond what you’ve learned in college.”

At all levels (global, national, local, and individual) there are very doable things we can do, and the 4IR is a major contributor to “why” and “how.”   

Brendan Walsh is senior vice president of partners relations at 1901 Group.