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In the age of digitalization, all countries in the globe have made a tremendous effort to keep up with technological advancements, especially developing countries.
The fast pace of technological changes in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0, transforms the way people live, work, and connect to one another (Gray, 2016). The existence of Industry 4.0, through technological integration, plays a central role in industrial and economic development for both developed and developing countries.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2020), Industry 4.0 can broadly be defined as the adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) used to integrate with industrial manufacturing. The two components that constitute Industry 4.o are the digital application derived from the cyber-physical system and the connectivity in the manufacturing industry (UNDP, 2020). The cyber-physical system is the system used to connect the physical world to the cyber world. That includes the internet of things (IoT), big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, hybrid production systems, and cloud computing. The connectivity is more about networking, sensing between the cyber and physical world, and sharing data analysis.
The transition from relying on typical manufacturing to automated manufacturing facilitated by high technology has made progress of eliminating some of the jobs by replacing them with AI and machine learning (Gray, 2016). In this regard, the future of workforce will need many preparations in terms of specialized skills to keep its own pace with the radical change in the spheres of increasing development. Moreover, the result of Industry 4.o does not only drive the cutting-edged technology but also requires the country to invest and strengthen more on the human resources development (Maisiri et al., 2019). In Cambodia, because there is a lack of professional and skilled labor in the country, the need to address the skill requirements in Industry 4.o should be put in a more in-depth discussion.
Challenges facing the working industry in Cambodia
The emergence of Industry 4.0 has shaped human development fast forward and utterly different from how the first, second, and third industrial revolution changed the society. The role of Industry 4.o in a developing country like Cambodia is considered a double-edged sword. From the positive point of view, it provides a wide range of opportunities to both human resources development and economic acceleration. However, on the negative side, it creates a huge barrier for people who lack technological and computing skills to survive in the new job markets that are all connected with digitalization.
With regard to the challenges of the country to adapt to the new revolution, Cambodia’s readiness for the future of production, according to the World Economic Forum (2018), was ranked 81st for the structure of production and 91st for the driver of production among 100 countries. The assessment clearly shows how Cambodia is still lagging behind in advancing itself in terms of the future of production with the technological integration and connectivity. Moreover, the barriers that the country has recently encountered in adapting itself to the new digital economy are the lack of infrastructure, skill mismatch, unprogressive regulatory framework, financial limitation, and insufficient skills in integrating the technology into the working industry (UNDP, 2020).
As technology acts as an enabler in shaping the economy in this new revolution of Industry 4.0, some of the jobs in Cambodia like those in garment factory, agricultural sector, and machinery industry will be soon replaced by automated machine (Chhem et al., 2019). The replacement of human workers with automation reflects a limited and low level of education and skills needed in the new era of development. Given the threat of unemployment due to Industry 4.0, more skilled workers are required to accelerate for the country to catch up with the new trend of digital economy and labor market transformation.
Skills Needed in Industry 4.0
Despite the fact that there is a controversial debate regarding how the presence of Industry 4.0 will soon affect the current job market leading to many job losses, the technology will, in turn, give a rise to many new job opportunities and strengthen the remaining jobs to fit in the new industry and make it more productive (Chhem et al., 2019). As Cambodia aspires to transform its status from a lower-middle income country to an upper-middle income country by 2030, the need to introduce and sharpen the new skills required to adapt to the rapid changes in the labor market should be paid with greater attention. The requirements of new skills in Industry 4.0, according to the “Future of Jobs” survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (2016), are related to system skills, content skills, cognitive abilities, and social skills.
With regard to the system or digital skills such as data analysis and data-based decision, most of the businesses and manufacturing industries shift its system from manual work to the more sophisticated use of IoT and big data. The skills correlated with the data analysis lay as the most important and solid skill in driving most of major working forces as it serves as a tool to store and generate useful digital information (World Economic Forum, 2016). So, when talking about data, it always comes with the understanding of AI and machine learning associated with the integration of ICT. ICT literacy learning as a part of content skills has been placed on high demand as a skill to be equipped. In business industry, data analytics and employee’s basic knowledge of ICT not only help to retain the information of production but also improve the products and boost more innovative creations to meet the customer’s demands (Geissbauer et al., 2016).
Of all the necessary skills, cognitive abilities including creativity, logical reasoning, mathematical reasoning and visualization, and the process skills, also known as critical thinking, play a pivotal role for workers to adapt to the new labor force. One of the most obvious skills for people to improve in order to compete with the rise of robot and machine learning occupied with some of the jobs in the industry is creativity (Gray, 2016). Cotet et al. (2017) point out that in the technological era, the three most important skills that facilitate the employees’ job are creativity, emotional intelligence, and proactive thinking. As the new technology will act as a tool to improve job productivity and some of the existing jobs will be soon replaced with automated machines, the need to be more innovative in creating new skill sets is encouraged (Maisiri et al., 2019).
Although the requirements of new skills in the context of Industry 4.0 seem to be connected with technological and computing skills, social and soft skills still perform a significant role in helping workers to be more flexible toward the job transformation. Emotional intelligence such as communication, collaboration, and teamwork plays a major role in interacting with the AI and automated machine. Although in a sense that robotic machine has taken most of the manual work, the need for human intervention is still significant. The increasing use of AI in the working industry to enhance productivity requires human-machine interaction involving social skills (Maisiri et al., 2019). That implies that without humans operating the machine and establishing more simplified creations in assisting the industry, automated machines and AI are nothing in producing the end products.
To conclude, Industry 4.0 is regarded as the most crucial aspect of Cambodia’s economy as well as the manufacturing industry. However, it can be a two-edged sword. It creates a new opportunity for Cambodia to catch up with other countries and boost economic growth through the integration of technology and cyber-physical system into the workforce. However, it also poses threats to people in the country concerning job losses due to the replacement of manual works with AI.
Therefore, the need for the country to invest more in strengthening the workers’ skills to match with the requirement of the future jobs in Industry 4.0 should be taken into serious consideration. To do so, there should be a joint effort from all relevant stakeholders such as the government, universities, non-governmental organizations, and development partners. To be ready for the future workforce, promoting innovative research, STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics) education, and creativity into students’ learning programs and providing workers with more opportunities to be trained on certain skills should be encouraged.
Kanika NHIL is currently an intern at Cambodian Education Forum (CEF). She is a senior student pursuing a Bachelor of Education in English at the Institute of Foreign Languages, Royal University of Phnom Penh and a senior student majoring in International Relations at the Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia.
This article was originally published by Cambodian Education Forum on January 3, 2021.