Skill building 4.0


In-depth analysis, smart planning and new thinking are transforming how organisations re-skill at the scale needed to gain strategic advantage from the fourth industrial revolution.


The world is awash with reports on ‘The Rise of The Robots’ and the growth of AI (not to mention the risks as highlighted by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking). It is well accepted that the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is here and that the explosion of cyber-physical systems and embedded technologies will radically affect jobs, business models and infrastructure. But whilst scare stories about the necessary economy-wide re-skilling are rife, nobody is talking about what companies can do to achieve it.

It’s time to change that.

New research-based methods offer clear solutions. By blending data-driven talent market analysis with technology, strategy and global political economy knowledge, companies and governments can map out the future skills they need and how to build them. Through our research and work with clients, we have identified three practical steps that companies and governments should take now.


1. Use new sources of labour market data as part of the investment screening process
Many organisations do not accurately map their skills needs or talent availability when planning national or international expansion or restructuring. This is especially true when considering future skill needs in rapidly changing markets. Organisations have been known to commit to major location investments without securely mapping skills availability in target locations or surrounding commuter belts. This extends to often not understanding future talent pipeline availability at high school, graduate or post-grad level.

New data-driven techniques make it possible to identify volume availability of specific skills in specific locations. By combining this insight with an understanding of future technologies, organisations can map future product and business model strategy onto future skill needs. It is also vital to add expertise in political economy and education markets to reveal sources of graduate intake, R&D hotspots and other long-term talent investment information. Using this combination is rapidly becoming the new best-practice, delivering significant competitive advantage.

2. Use new approaches to build skills ecosystems
Large-scale changes to skills and work mean that the traditional ways in which firms build skills are will become insufficient. In the UK, US, Australia and similar markets, firms typically build skills themselves or hire experienced staff. When re-skilling at a large scale is needed, and when everyone is hunting the same new skills, it is increasingly difficult for firms to succeed alone. Firms must explore ways to extend their talent strategy in non-traditional ways, such as by collaborating in-sector and cross-sector, in order to achieve the large-scale re-skilling required to compete in a 4IR world.

In many economies, notably South Korea, Japan and Central Europe, it is common to see deep skills-building collaborations involving competitors, supply chain partners, peers in kindred industries, Universities, finance and government. These arrangements exist in small pockets in Western economies, for example, Silicon Valley or a few industry clusters, but they are rare.

Both the individual firm and collaborative models have their advantages and disadvantages, but the collaboration or industry cluster models common in other economies (and present in Silicon Valley etc.) are known to be effective in achieving large-scale skills shifts, and in building long-term talent and intellectual property (IP) pipelines.

3. Create new intellectual property generation structures
Greater automation and the continuing march of globalisation means that western firms are increasingly differentiated by their ability to generate IP. Innovation is not restricted to products or technologies. Increasingly, firms are innovating new business models, operating processes and management techniques, often enabled by 4IR technologies.

The scarcity of skills required to innovate (often a combination of business and technology) and the increasing need for local market input mean that firms are starting to use new IP generation structures. We have been involved with the emergence of several new methods that are increasingly differentiating the most successful firms:


          • Establishing a network of technology-skills R&D and product development hubs and/or small ‘listening posts’, globally if possible and appropriate, to tap into different centres of expertise and to bring crucial local market insights.
          • Identifying the leading R&D centres within Universities, industry clusters and specialist firms – and securing partnerships with them for research and talent supply.
          • Integrating technology and business skills at senior levels, including at Board level – think ‘techies and scientists with MBAs’. This is a rapidly emerging trend, made even more relevant by the business model innovations facilitated by new technologies.

By taking these three steps, organisations can develop a robust re-skilling strategy and keep up with the rapid changes brought about by 4IR. Contact us for further details on our research and implementation activities in these areas

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Oxford Strategic Consulting, 30 St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3LE