The first article in this series addressed the learner of the future. But, what is the likely workplace in which we will find these learners?

Times are changing, and their influence on the talent development industry is going to be extensive. It has been argued we are just at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution. The first of three industrial revolutions started in the late 1700s, when mechanical production, railroads and steam power were introduced; the second, 100 years later with mass production, electrical power and the assembly line; and the third, in the late 1960s, when automated production, electronics and computers were introduced. The fourth industrial revolution began at the beginning of this century, with the introduction of artificial intelligence; robotics; big data; and a slew of emerging technologies, such as 3D printing, quantum computing and self-driving vehicles. Who knows what’s next? As World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab said, “The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared to previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.”

It’s easy to conclude this current revolution will have a significant impact on learning and development. What is difficult to imagine is to what end and how far in the future. For example, as robots become more and more intelligent, will they replace workers or require workers to guide them? According to a study from the University of Oxford, nearly half of U.S. jobs will become automated in the next 20 years. A Boston Consulting Group study supports this contention in its prediction that up to 25 percent of jobs will be taken over by smart software or robots by 2025. Based on the influx of robotic intervention, it is likely at least some of the future of learning will reside in teaching people how to teach or, at a minimum, interact with, robotic devices.

By 2018, two million workers will be supervised by a non-human boss, 45 percent of the fastest-growing companies will have fewer employees than smart machines, and two million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices. Thirty-seven percent of the workforce was expected to be mobile just by the end of 2015. Thirty percent of full-time employees currently do most of their work from somewhere other than their employer’s location. Twenty percent of the workforce is comprised of temps, independent contractors and freelancers. The movement to mobile workers increases daily as businesses begin to close certain facilities and move their staff, especially from call centers to home offices.

These changes will require a different set of collaboration and decision-making skills as well as discipline and independence, not to mention virtual leadership skills. By 2020, 80 percent of business processes and products presented 10 years ago will be reinvented, digitized or eliminated by new information, and 5 percent of all economic transactions will be automated without human control. These percentages are only going to grow in the next 10-20 years.

The new workplace will look different, as will the new learner. But will they mesh, or will one have to adapt to the other? In either case, development of new talent to meet the changing face of the altered workplace will be a very high priority.