4IR: What the heck is it and why should I care?

4IR: What the heck is it and why should I care?

Guest Student Post By: Lynne Evers Williams


If the acronym “4IR” hasn’t become part of your lexicon in the last 6 months, I can almost guarantee it soon will.  Are you overwhelmed with increasingly more information than you can possibly read, absorb, and act on? Are you observing that you or your organization are expected to produce more and more in shorter and shorter timeframes? If you’ve said yes to either of these, then even if you don’t know it by name, you’ve already been impacted by 4IR!

When I first heard the term 41R in a presentation outlining the recent transfer of executive leadership at the technology company I work for, I was curious enough to turn to my “friends” at Wikipedia. Frankly, I thought that 4IR might be some new technology I could use in my senior learning and development role.  Here is what I found out! Fourth Industrial Revolution  While not a technology per se, I learned that World Economic Forum Chair, Klaus Schwab first used the term Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR in early 2016. He later described it in his book by the same name (2017), as largely the significant advances in communication and connectivity. Schwab asserted that thepower to connect billions of people and devices most sets 4IR apart from the purely technological increases that defined the first three industrial revolutions. According to an article in the World Economic Forum’s publication in late 2016, 4IR and its breakthroughs in a number of fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IOT), 3D printing, and the like, has no historical precedent. In short, the 4IR is evolving at an exponential rate and is disrupting almost every industry around the globe.

Not surprisingly, many consulting firms are now proposing ways they can help client companies prepare their workforces to exploit this disruption. Accenture is certainly among them and in white papers such as their recent “Harnessing Revolution: Creating the Future Workforce Today” Accenture strategists Ellyn Shook and Mark Knickrehm, could not be clearer about the urgency in doing so. Harnessing Revolution  In it, they state that while most CEOs rank workforce high on their list of priorities, they’re not translating concern into action. As a result, the skills gap is becoming an ever-widening chasm. Shook and Knickrehm offered the following relatively startling estimate; today 40 percent of employers report talent shortages.

Fast forward to last month when I was beginning to contemplate how I could translate concern into action by leading my learning and development colleagues to figure out how we could address an anticipated significant skill gap.  Imagine my surprise then, when I received my November 2018 ATD magazine (TD) and found the cover story to be “Revolution 4.0:  Does your company have what it needs to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” I thought I was so forward thinking; was I already late to the game?

Training is not specifically called out in the TD article starting on p.26, but writer Ryann K. Elis asserts that “talent development professionals will need to be proactive in three key trends: agility, artificial intelligence, and using culture as a competitive advantage.”  No doubt anyone involved in increasing the human potential will have a significant role in harnessing and exploiting what the 4IR has to offer.

While 4IR is not a specific technology as I originally thought, it does represent an unprecedented opportunity for those of us in learning & development!  Not only will we use the new technologies we will soon have access to in our learning solutions, but the velocity, scope, and system impact of 4IR will require significant and ongoing training to maximize ROI. Why should you care? As a learning and development professional, I am confident YOU will have a very key role in keeping your company competitive and relevant.  What are you doing about it today?

For your reflection:

  • Contributors to the Accenture white paper assert that 4IR will have such an impact on reskilling that CEO’s should assume the role of Chief Learning Officer in their respective companies. Is this an over-reaction? Why or why not?
  • I believe that even the digital natives entering the workforce will be ill-equipped to deal with the rate of change, and need significant training to deliver the promise of 4IR.   What do you think?
  • The author of the Nov 28, 2018, TD Magazine article referenced here asks: Does your company have what it needs to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? How would you respond to this right now?


Ellis, R.K (2018, November) Revolution 4.0:  Does your company has what it needs to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? TD Magazine. Volume 72, Number 11. Pages 26-31.

Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Retrieved 1 November from              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Industrial_Revolution

Shook, E. and Knickrehm, M. (2018) Harnessing Revolution: Creating the Future Workforce       Today.  Retrieved from:  https://www.accenture.com/us-    en/_acnmedia/A2F06B52B774493BBBA35EA27BCDFCE7.pdf#zoom=50

Schwab, K. (2017). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

World Economic Forum.  Retrieved  1 November from




  • The Knovva Academy understands the need for online high school classes, as is all set to combat the post-pandemic circumstances by the virtual model G20 summit. https://www.knovva.com/global-education/

  • It is interesting because the company I work for hasn’t YET mentioned 4IR but I know it’ll be the buzz word coming soon. As with the other new lingo that pops up in the telecommunications industry. We are always chasing the gold phrase. Although we are as mentioned in the article using these concepts just not with the same verbiage. At my organization we are forward thinking and already utilizing AI and IoT in our products and with the experience for our customers. So this is very good info so that I can be in the loop.
    I do fee that getting digital is the way of life. And when culture is mentioned it means to me that if a person is not in the mindset of digitalizing their home and using these new technologies then that person will be left in the dust. It is critical to be aligned and proactive especially me as a trainer.

  • In order for me to answer your first question, I would need to know more about the specifics, such as the learning environment, trends, company goals, etc. Digital natives will have to be introduced to the changes of technology, but not as much as those in previous generations. As of right now, my company does not have a plan to tackle this challenge. However, there are factions of some departments that have started to implement some changes and gained positive results.

    Thank you for your post.

  • I think this is a really interesting article. I believe that employment engagement will increase productivity and profitability.

  • Great Post. Like many under this thread, I too have not heard or used the term 4IR. While the term is unfamiliar to me, I have heard about the waves of society, the Industrial Age, the Agriculture age, and now the information age. these three ages or waves of society have helped transform the world to what it is today. To the question presented: “Contributors to the Accenture white paper assert that 4IR will have such an impact on reskilling that CEO’s should assume the role of Chief Learning Officer in their respective companies. Is this an over-reaction? Why or why not?” I honestly believe that this is not an over-reaction. As technology improves, new skills are required and new roles are required to be formed to meet the demand.

  • I was not aware of what the 41R was and thank you for explaining it. Technology is growing faster than every now a days and it is important that we keep up with it. It is sad that jobs that have paid good amount of money in the past currently do not exist anymore

  • Thank you for this article. Although I have not heard of the term 4IR before, I did answer yes to the two questions in the first paragraph. I know within my company we are constantly being asked to work or deliver a product faster even though a thorough and detailed project plan may have been presented on how we are going to get there. I can recall a certain system that was to be launched in September of 2018 and we were asked by leadership to move it up by three weeks regardless of the tasks that needed to be done. Needless to say there were a lot of late nights and weekend work. We managed to get it done, but it caused more stress on the employees.

    I am also in agreement that the timing of this imperative and we all need to prepare ourselves now as technology and so many other things change so fast that it is hard to keep up. Companies need their employees to have those three key trends that were mentioned in order to remain competitive. I know we are constantly being told to expand your skill set. So, I think companies are aware, but not so sure how to get their employees there. So, I guess it is up to the employees to take matters into their own hands and make sure they keep skills up to par and stay relevant.

  • I totally agree with everyone’s comments on this. The shelf life of many skills is not at it’s best. People are not getting paid what they should be getting paid. We need to prepare and grow with time because of how fast technology field is expanding.

  • Marta Bujnowska

    I also have not heard of 4IR and thank you for explaining it to us. We need to prepare and be vigilant with learning and development because of how fast technology field is expanding.

  • The timing of this is imperative and it really forces you to stop and think of the skill gap that already exisits within the workforce. There is already a significant challenge within my industry when it comes to healthcare. The younger generations want to utilize technology to their advantage yet the healthcare industry is sorely lacking in meeting these needs and requirements from their consumers. Being prepared for 4IR is something that most companies do not seem to recognize. As technology is constantly evolving companies need to keep pace or be ahead of the curve to stay relevant and competetive.

  • I had not previously heard of the acronym 4IR, so I was drawn to this post to learn more. IoT is an important factor at the company that I work for and as an organization, we are identifying ways to prepare the frontline workforce to position IoT devices to the appropriate profile of customer. This requires change management as well as learning and development. There are high level learning objectives like being able to demonstrate understanding of the technology, effectively position devices and troubleshooting steps. Being in a technology industry consistently maintains challenges for the organization, both for developers and those that focus on people development to be able to be productive with and provide customer support for technological advances.

  • The shelf life of many skills has shrunk already! Jobs that once paid good money don’t exist. This is nothing new but the 4IR does point to some unique skills we may need and some that don’t exist yet. If the last industrial revolution is any indication of the mass amount of skills that will die out we should absolutely have our leaders plan on assuming the role of learning officer. Technology is changing exponentially and we have seen the impact of those changes prior to this shift. Imagine explaining to a farmer from 1930s, what Customer Relationship Management salesmen are. It would be hard! These shift in job skills are coming faster because the technology is growing faster. It is best to be prepared.

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