Often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, the current rapid growth in technologies and approaches such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, smart cities and the internet of things (IoT), are changing the way we live, work and play. With predictions that millions of jobs could be lost to robots or AI; and with governments around the world exploring how to digitise their cities; how can we help people adjust to these changes now, so they are not left behind?

Upskilling the workforce and preparing future generations

Despite the predictions of millions of job losses, it does not have to be all doom and gloom. While, there will undoubtedly be jobs lost, there will also be new ones created. The European Commission estimates that by 2020, there will be a shortage of around 800,000 ICT specialists in the EU and digital skills will be in demand across all sectors. To meet these needs we must start reskilling and upskilling our existing workforce so that they can also fill these new vacancies. The German automation expert Festo has developed its own training programmes to reskill its worldwide labour force in IoT applications, while American telecoms giant AT&T is working to reskill 80,000 of its employees, with thousands acquiring “nanodegrees” on various technology-related topics due to its partnership with Udacity.

What about our future employees?

At the World Smart City Congress held in Barcelona in November 2016, it was stated that the majority of today’s primary aged children will be employed in a job that does not currently exist. This means, we will need to adapt curriculums to cover topics like robotics, coding and digital technologies e.g. 3D printing, apps, VR and AI to ensure that children leave school with the right skill set. In 2014, the UK government changed its curriculum to teach children how to code and create their own programs, but with rapid advances in this area, support will also be needed to enable educators to continually embrace new subjects and technological/digital developments, to ensure pupils have the knowledge necessary to meet market needs.

Accessibility and technology for all

Approaches such as smart cities require citizens to be connected to applications, social media and websites. However, a PwC study found that at the beginning of 2016, only 44% of the world’s population is online and connected to the digital economy. This is due to a number of issues including connectivity, a lack of high-speed networks, cost and poor engagement. Schemes that offer free cloud based WIFI or accessibility to technology hubs can help to address some of these challenges but it will also require the creation of new business models, partnerships and technologies, especially if we are to help rural or developing communities connect. In South East Asia, the Internet Society in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation and the Nepal Wireless Networking Project, has helped establish a mesh-type Wi-Fi networking to provide basic connectivity to remote villages and towns. While in the UK, EE’s new micro network is providing 3 and 4G coverage in communities who have no access to broadband. Yet, with 56% of the world currently offline, there still remains a lot to do.


Empowering all communities

Community engagement is one of the core parts of the smart city agenda and aims to enable all citizens to play a role in shaping policy and services. To achieve this goal we need to develop mechanisms that enable everyone to participate in this process, while also preventing special interest and more organised groups from dominating the agenda. There are already a number of pilot projects including Bristol Commons and Real City in Bergamo, Italy, that connect citizens to local governments, to help policy makers understand what people’s daily pain points are and how they might go about resolving these. In Toronto, Canada, the community housing corporation gave its residents $1million to buy the technologies they believed would allow them to address some of the challenges they face and in Malmo, Sweden, The Connectors Group has carried out a number of projects that have explored how you can bring people together to collaborate on projects such as the creation of a small park, public spaces alterations and the future of co-working. Despite these pilots, we still have a long way to go before we can establish a methodology that can be scaled and applied across communities in multiple locations. One of the major problems is the unique nature of each community. Rather than a one size fits all approach, the answer may lie in the creation of some sort of pick and mix toolkit, where citizens and governments can choose the tools that will work best for their situation.

Despite the headlines, the advent of the fourth industrial revolution need not be something people should fear. While, it will usher in a different way of living, it will also offer many new opportunities for communities around the world to improve their daily lives. However, for people to realise these benefits, there needs to be support and investment from governments, corporations, NGOs and educational establishments etc. and this needs to start now. The rapid advances in these areas, means there is no time to waste. We must act now to provide individuals with the skills and knowledge they need and support the identification and scaling up of pilot projects to give us the infrastructure to encourage and facilitate greater participation. Only then can we ensure that no one gets left behind.


About the author

Stephanie Whittaker

Senior Marketing Communications Manager for BAM Design

Stephanie Whittaker is the senior marketing communications manager for BAM Design. She is also the leader of ENCORD’s Foresighting work group which aims to provide construction industry leaders with the insight and knowledge they need to develop business strategies for the medium to long term.  

Stephanie has spent more than 15 years in the construction industry, working for Arup, Capita Symonds and Halcrow before joining BAM in 2013. During this time she has worked on a variety of projects with a particular focus on creating resilient communities, high performing buildings, sustainable corporate strategies, building information modelling and energy.    

Most recently she has developed an interest in smart cities and how this approach can be used to have a positive impact on the wider city agenda and residents’ lives.

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