Experts believe that we are living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The first one arrived in 18th-century Britain with the invention of steam power. The second was marked by mass production at the beginning of the 19th, and the third was characterised by a migration from the physical world to the digital one in the latter half of the 20th century.

Each industrial revolution brought with it huge change, speeding up agricultural and manufacturing processes, championing innovation and making the world a much more affordable place to live.

The UK’s agricultural output grew between two and seven times between 1700 and 1870. The price of some textiles reduced by as much as 90% in the same period.

For some, these were boom times. Eras of prosperity. But for many, large-scale changes to the working world were a cause for concern. In the 19th century, for example, a group of textile workers – known as Luddites – destroyed machinery, believing it would ultimately replace skilled labour. They feared redundancy in the face of technological advancement.

With the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, those same worries resurface.

So, what is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

If we were to sum it up in a word, it would be automation.

The Third Industrial Revolution was a transition to digital technology. The fourth moves beyond viewing documents on computers or typing emails instead of letters and encompasses everything associated with innovative technologies.

Here are just a few examples of game-changing ideas that we may see in a mainstream context as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

  • Self-driving vehicles
  • Delivery drones
  • Robotic packing and warehouse assistants
  • Staffless supermarkets
  • AI-generated writing and artwork
  • The Internet-of-Things
  • 3D printing

Some of those things are, admittedly, a long way off. Some, however, have already arrived.

Europe’s first self-driving truck on public roads has been operating regularly on the Swedish E5 highway since spring 2021, and the European commercial 3D printing market is expected to reach $10 billion by 2026, up from $4.6 billion in 2020.

If you are employed as what may be termed ‘low-skilled’ labour, you may be looking at the list of Fourth Industrial Revolution innovations and thinking about reviving the actions of the Luddites. But viewing it from the perspective of a business owner, the list may offer a solution to the problem of workforce shortages.

Europe has an estimated shortfall of approximately 400,000 truck drivers, for example. In the UK, specifically, between 2016 and 2020, the number of drivers dropped by 14%.

Until this point, companies have had two routes to follow:

1. Turn to recruitment agencies to plug the gap

This can be an expensive solution. It solves the problem in the short term. But without help negotiating contracts and fees, it may not be viable for your business as we move into a period of predicted recession, high inflation (driving wages upwards) and exorbitant energy prices.

2. Improve working conditions

That might be through higher salaries or complimentary gym membership, on-site subsidised restaurants or flexible working hours. It is a long-term solution but one that may require significant capital. If you choose to pursue this option, our specialists would advise you to discuss opportunities to free up capital from other areas of your business – perhaps your telecommunications procurement or facilities management.

Now, with new technologies on the horizon, businesses can begin to bridge the labour gap and potentially retrain members of staff and place them into positions beyond the skillset of machines.

AI-assisted innovation might be here tomorrow, next week, next year or next decade to help with labour shortages. Until it arrives, talk with us about ways your business can solve the problem of workforce shortages. We can negotiate agency fees on your behalf and provide cost-saving solutions to keep your business moving.