Industry 4.0 Leaders’ Educational Requirements--A New Focus on Leadership*

Industry 4.0 refers to the fourth industrial revolution. It calls for a dynamic transformation of how all aspects of business and production are done. A new wave of global technology will change global production. Internationalization, in all aspects of business and industry, will be the norm. Countries can no longer remain confined within their borders but must become citizens of the world. Leaders in this new era will need to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and be able to interact across the globe. In short, they need to be liberally educated.

Where once there were farm workers, textile workers, and factory workers, they are being replaced through robotic automation. The low cost of human labor, an advantage in the past, will no longer be an advantage in the future. Automation will enable an extreme increase in production speeds and a reduction in production costs. Professor Tran Dinh Thien, Director of Viet Nam Institute for Economics, has said: ”The fourth industrial revolution is not simply a concept. It has spread widely like a fire and has strong impacts on our lives. Industry 4.0 will even have a strong influence on our lifestyles, our communications and even our (humankind’s) values.” As a result, all aspects of society will be affected.

But how should this impact higher education? Dam Manh Duong, Director of the Department of High Technology under the Ministry of Science and Technology, urges that “we need to change our human resources training, starting from general education to tertiary education.” Future workers will need to be highly trained in the emerging technologies but also, as importantly, in the values associated with using those technologies. In the future, we must not only possess the ability to develop the technology but also to know whether, when, and where to use that technology. That kind of thinking is both reflective and interdisciplinary.

While robots may replace human hands/eyes/ears in production, they must never replace human values in the oversight of that production. Mr. Vo Quang Hue, Vice Chairman of EuroCham Vietnam, has said: “Automation and robots can replace manual jobs, but it also generates high demand for skilled labor and talented leaders. On this same subject, Mr. Ngo Van Tuan, Deputy Head of the National Assembly’s Economics Committee, says: “The human work force will require interdisciplinary thinking, social skills, and other technical skills.”

In other words, Industry 4.O will require the world to produce a new kind of worker—a knowledge worker! Tomorrow’s industry leaders and managers must possess new skill sets to adapt, to manage, and to take advantage of Industry 4.0. They must be critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, communicators, and provide value driven leadership. They must be able to see beyond the technology at play to the implications for society for the use of that technology. These traits define the knowledge worker. They must know the technology but be able to meet and solve all aspects of the challenges engendered by this technology. This kind of leader requires a new approach to education—or does it?

Liberal arts institutions educate individuals to be leaders in tomorrow’s world. Industry 4.0 requires more than technical expertise in its leaders, it requires problem solvers, innovators, communicators and value driven individuals. These characteristics are the characteristics of the liberal arts graduate-- the very characteristics needed for Industry 4.0 leadership.

*This piece was originally presented in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam—September 2017

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