The Fourth Industrial Revolution

In 2016, the economist and founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab wrote a book arguing that we’re at the beginning of a new Industrial Revolution—one characterized not only by massive change, but by massive change at extraordinary speed.

But business leaders have been commenting on the fast pace of modern life for decades. To see why this time it really is different, the illustration below from Accenture Research is helpful. It depicts the impact of notable digital technologies on the world of business in the last 70 years.

Note the purple line, which represents the impact of mainframe computing. The technology took roughly 30 years to mature. More recent techs, like the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and big data analytics, changed the world in much less time. The most recent technological breakthroughs are projected to hit maturity in less than 10 years. This rate of technological change is unprecedented.

And that’s not all. The impact of each of these technologies does not occur in a vacuum. Game-changing developments are “stacking up” on each other, causing combinatorial effects and creating huge opportunities for innovation.

The size of the coming tsunami of change is conveyed in papers like the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, which demands a sense of urgency from companies to act now as the relentless pace of technological advancement picks up.

The new nature of work in financial services

The combined impact of these technologies is changing the nature of work in financial services:

  • The traditional focus on predictability and efficiency is shifting to a focus on speed-to-value and innovation.
  • Large, global delivery teams are becoming smaller, agile teams.
  • The conventional “waterfall” project process is being abandoned for faster, iterative processes.
  • Organizations are becoming less hierarchical and more collaborative.

This new kind of work needs new kinds of workers. Tomorrow’s financial services workforce will need to be more cross-functional and integrated. Traditional workforce turnover won’t be enough to achieve this. An efficient and effective workforce re-skilling program will soon be “table stakes” for financial services organizations looking to take advantage of cutting-edge tech.

Most talent leaders in FS are aware of this. Yet digital skills are still proving to be a roadblock.

Accenture research reveals that 78 percent of business leaders expect their organizations to be digital businesses within the next three years, but almost half say a lack of digital skills is a key barrier to transformation. A strong majority, 84 percent, say talent will be a core issue in the process and that reskilling is an imperative. However, only four percent of executives surveyed in our 2018 FS Future Workforce Survey said they plan to significantly increase investment in reskilling over the next three years.

Maximize workforce transformation with experiential learning

Clearly, the financial services workforce requires a major reskilling—one that should account for how people learn in the new digital age. This has changed just as much in the last 10 years as mobile phones or how consumers access music.

Recent advances in learning research and neuroscience have shown definitively that the brain continues to develop throughout adulthood, and perceptions that older adults are unable to learn are unfounded. Each learning experience creates new neurological pathways or configurations in our brains that deepen our understanding. The number of new pathways possible is limited only be our effort.

Learning researchers have also found that “experiential learning” is the most effective way of teaching adults new skills. For instance, a recent study  from MIT and Accenture showed a standard training video to 99 Accenture employees, divided into four groups. The first group simply watched the video, while the second watched it and had a spontaneous conversation afterwards. The third group watched the video and had a group discussion guided by an instructor afterwards. The fourth group were given test questions throughout the video. In follow-up memory tests 20-35 hours after seeing the video, the structured discussion group scored 25 percent higher than the first two groups. The interpolated question group scored 26 percent higher than the first two groups.  third and fourth groups scored roughly 25 percent higher on memory tests than the first two groups.

Experiential learning is active, immersive, and based on real-world experience. It encourages learners to experiment right away and incorporates teamwork from the start. Some common examples of experiential learning systems are apprenticeships, design thinking workshops, simulation tools, virtual reality, and on-the-job training.

From an organizational perspective, any future-ready learning function needs to:

  • Be defined by a talent strategy tied to the overall vision and priorities.
  • Use nimble governance and operating structures to support evolving learning needs and drive innovation.
  • Be scalable to unlock continuous and immersive learning.
  • Maintain focus on business value and enhancing the employee experience.

This means that FS organizations should be building learning systems that are:

  • “Byte” sized—that is, they deliver micro-learning in three- or four-minute bursts, so learning is provided just-in-time.
  • Accessible at any time, on any platform.
  • Social, so learners can share progress and make recommendations for peers.
  • Context-sensitive and adaptive to the needs of individual learners.
  • Curated by subject-matter experts to leverage the best available knowledge.

The longer the status quo persists, the more urgent the situation becomes. FS organizations can act now to position the workforce for success in the new digital age.

In my next post, we’ll look at a case study of a next-generation learning system in action: Accenture’s own Future Talent Platform.

If you’d like to continue the conversation about how to make that happen, I’d love to hear from you. I can be contacted here.

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