The perfect talent management storm – the challenge of industry 4.0

The perfect talent management storm – the challenge of industry 4.0

Talent management for industry 4.0

Talent management is about to become significantly more ‘interesting’.

As we enter the 2020s a wide range of issues have combined to create a volatile, uncertain, ever shifting and complex environment within which organisations have to operate. For example:

  • Economic volatility and uncertainty
  • Political change and upset
  • Technological transformation and the rise of automation, AI and robotics
  • Demographic shifts
  • Scientific developments
  • Market changes and shifts in the business environment
  • Social and now medical change

Exerting pressure

These are all exerting pressure and change on organisational life, decision-making and the knowledge and skills requirements of employees, managers and leaders.

The skills shortage problem

Studies are starting to show that the pace of technological and scientific changes alone are starting to overtake most organisations’ and workers’ capability to adapt. Industry 4.0 is being characterised by this combination of factors which is causing rapid fundamental changes in the world of work and just about every other aspect of our lives.

The knock-on effect of this situation, whereby change creates emerging change, is leading to increasing shortages in industry of both skills and knowledge. The fact that many elements of the contents of the first two years of most STEM degrees are out of date by the time students graduate underpins the rate of change across these subjects.

Talent management for industry 4.0
Talent management for industry 4.0

Beg, borrow and steal talent

This is putting increasing pressure on organisational talent management functions to beg, borrow and steal talent, as seen in the increasing trends for poaching or head-hunting talent from competitors (lateral talent management), rather than relying on developing their own talent (vertical talent management).  Such practices, however, place industry sectors under a dual strain in that spiralling talent acquisition and retention costs are fuelled, as well as the performance of projects being reduced through a butterfly effect, where key talent moves around too quickly to be effective.

Part of the problem for talent managers and organisational leaders is that many of the roles and skills required today didn’t exist just 10 years ago and this gap between organisational skills need and role/skills emergence is getting shorter.

The key role of talent management 

Given this backdrop, one of the key roles of talent management is to provide a stream of talent for emerging new roles and jobs. Coupled with identifying, developing and retaining ‘A’ performers, the role of talent management is becoming an increasingly critical provider of competitive advantage for organisations.

The question as to what this all means for the management of technical expertise in organisations is important for many organisations.

Getting the right future talent
Getting the right talent for the future is a challenge

A new study

A new (2019) has looked at the implications of industry 4.0 on talent management within organisations and what lessons there are for organisations, leaders, managers and talent management professionals.

You might also like to see this study…


The study found that:

  1. There is a new and continually developing set of core competencies which includes:
    1. Systems thinking
    2. Critical and creative thinking combined
    3. Collaboration and people (including emotional) skills and focus, alongside technical skills
    4. Adaptiveness and flexibility
    5. Proactivity
    6. Multi-skilling and wider knowledge bases
    7. Knowledge management capabilities, self-learning and active involvement in communities of practice
    8. Market / client focus
  2. The neglected middle. Developing management and leadership skills as early as possible and not waiting for people to get into the position of needing them.
  3. The neglected ‘upper end’. The development and updating of many older employees and senior leaders and managers often gets neglected. Older and senior employees often see development as something for younger and newer employees. There can be emotional and credibility issues which reduce this population’s willingness to get involved in their own learning and development. However, it was found that this cohort, if updated, willing and adaptable (issues that often need development), can add significantly to an organisation’s competitiveness.
  4. Mindset change. The concern for talent management, succession and future proofing needs to occur at every level of the organisation and should not just be left with talent management functions. The study found a worrying ‘we’re still successful’ complacency, even in the face of worsening project outcomes and technological skills’ shortfalls, particularly with project and middle managers. Managers are often unwilling to take risks and try new things, unless something actually breaks down.
  5. There is a concern that universities are not preparing students for work in terms of the skills (as opposed to the knowledge) needed. This level of development appears to be being left to organisations. The study estimates that it takes between one to two years in the workplace for most graduates to develop the core competencies mentioned above.

Organisations need to take greater levels of responsibility 

Organisations need to take greater levels of responsibility for filling their already thin technical talent pipelines and not just rely on the beg, borrow, steal approach. Additionally, there needs to be a shift from just trying to identify ‘A’ Performers to identifying ‘A’ roles and preparing people for them.

Part of the problem the study identifies is that many of the current beliefs about talent management and the role of managers and leaders in this activity need to be updated. Leaders and managers themselves need updating, both in terms of technology and the associated skills, and also in talent management skills.


Whysall, Z., Owtram, M., & Brittain, S. (2019). The new talent management challenges of Industry 4.0. Journal of Management Development, 38(2), 118-129

Be impressively well informed

Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published

Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...

Powered by ConvertKit
Like what you see? Help us spread the word

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page