The Role of Career Services Professionals in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Ovan Oakley

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is bringing digital, physical, and biological systems together in a way that will change people’s lives and the job market forever. Over the past decade, there has been significant growth in technology, such as the introduction of robotics, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing, which are disrupting several industries and job markets. The digitization and automation of work will have a major impact on career development.


With 85% of the jobs in 2030 not yet created (Schwab, 2015), how do career services professionals advise and prepare individuals for such a volatile and uncertain workforce? While there are several benefits of the 4IR, the major challenge practitioners face is that the rate at which megatrends, derived from 4IR are evolving faster than we can adjust. Below are a few areas where we will experience significant challenges:

  1. Employment
  2. Inequality
  3. Cybersecurity
  4. Risk Assessment
  5. Application and awareness of effective career theories

The challenges above spring from three megatrends of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: physical, digital, and biological (Lambert, 2017). Although all challenges are important, the physical megatrend will have the most impact on employment. The physical trends (autonomous vehicles, warships, trucks, drones, etc.) are the easiest to see because they are tangible and will cause the most disruption in our workforce (Schwab, 2016). For example, semi-trailer truck drivers' jobs are at risk with the introduction of autonomous vehicles. The less apparent biological trend involves DNA manipulation and computer systems with the ability to diagnose and recommend personalized treatment for cancer patients in a few minutes by comparing historical genetic data. Although there are many positives outcomes from this advancement, this will have a significant impact on healthcare professionals.


Despite the anticipated disruption of the 4IR, there are still opportunities for workers to adjust and meet the needs of the new world of work. According to recent research by Deloitte and The Global Business Coalition for Education (Armstrong et al., 2018, p. 16), a majority of business executives reported a gap between the competencies of recent graduates and the skills employers are seeking. Therefore, now more than ever, there is a significant need for career services professionals to collaborate with educational leaders, government officials, and business executives to equip future applicants with skills needed in an uncertain workforce, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and oral and written communication. In addition, practitioners need to research and be mindful of the changes or impacts in career development and identify new technology that will, if at all, enhance their effectiveness with serving clients.

Applying Career Development Theory to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

It is crucial to explore creative ways to apply current and emerging career theories to equip individuals for the future job market. Ordinary human capital will no longer be the driving factor of the workforce; instead, the most valuable asset will be individuals who can think critically, and develop new ideas and innovations. The career planning process in the National Career Development Association's Facilitating Career Development manual (Jordan & Marinaccio, 2017), encourages career services professionals to assist clients with identifying new occupational areas or jobs that fit skills they have or can acquire. Hence, this is an important step when applying career theories. Although there are many different career development theories such as Social Cognitive Career Theory and Happenstance Theory, I find the following theories to be most applicable for equipping students for the impacts of the 4IR.

Protean Career Model

Developed by Douglas Hall in the 1970s, the protean career model is a concept that requires everyone to 1) monitor and assess the job market; 2) anticipate future developments, trends, and industry shifts, 3) gain the necessary skills, qualifications, relationships, and assets to meet the shifts, and 4) adapt quickly to thrive in an ever-changing workforce (Briscoe, Hall, & Frautschy DeMuth, 2006). An effective way for career services professionals to utilize the protean career model is to explore new career pathways of opportunities, develop self-efficacy, and identify transferable skills when dealing with workers in transition.

Boundaryless Career Model

Briscoe, Hall, and Frautschy DeMuth (2006) found that the boundaryless career model supports flexibility, networking, and mobility across careers. This model encourages individuals to take full ownership of their career. With individuals approaching their career development with a clear understanding of the importance of networking and being flexible, this may provide the boundaryless model with an advantage over traditional models. This model is suitable for individuals considering self-employment. Career services professionals can assist self-employed workers by helping them identify and understand the challenges, rewards, and reasons for seeking self-employment, and encourage adaptability throughout the process.

Preparing the Client for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Career services professionals are in a unique situation where they can use the fourth industrial revolution as an opportunity to look further at how they serve individuals. To prepare clients for work during the 4IR, practitioners must emphasize a need to be flexible, creative, and innovative in individuals’ career development and career readiness approach. They need to foster meaningful partnerships with community leaders and external employers that will help in understanding the demands from various industries. This also identifies ways to equip individuals with the required critical and innovative thinking and effective communication skills that complement their strengths and develops areas of improvement. The 4IR is creating a new world of work led by digitization and automation. Career services professionals need to reinforce adaptability, creativity, and innovative strategies with clients to support the shift in the 21st-century world of work.



Briscoe, J. P., Hall, D. T., & Frautschy DeMuth, R. L. (2006). Protean and boundaryless careers: An empirical exploration. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 69(1), 30-47. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2005.09.003

Deloitte Global. (2018). Preparing tomorrow’s workforce for the fourth industrial revolution for business: A framework for action. The Global Business Coalition for Education, 1-16. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-preparing-tomorrow-workforce-for-4IR.pdf

Ee, J., & Agnes. C. (2015). Preparing youths for the workplace. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.

Hall, D. T. (1976). Careers in organizations. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman & Co.

Jordan, L. A., & Marinaccio, J. N. (Eds.). (2017). Facilitating Career Development (4th ed.). Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.

Klaus, S. (2016, January). The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it means and how to respond. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/



Ovan OakleyOvan Oakley, M.S., serves as the Director of Career Exploration and First Year Advisor at Concordia College – New York. He earned a B.S in Business Administration and a M.S in Business Leadership from Concordia College. His passion comes from helping students succeed and explore their identities and career paths. He can be reached at ovan.oakley@concordia-ny.edu


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Pamela Mullings   on Sunday 09/01/2019 at 01:37 PM

This article is edifying Ovan.
You are off to a great start in you career. A pivotal moment I believe.

Linda Sollars   on Tuesday 09/03/2019 at 02:16 AM

This is such a critical article on how career development specialists will work with students and clients in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Excellent and valuable reading for everyone!

Alan Jones   on Tuesday 09/03/2019 at 11:32 AM

Transition is more frequent and something that needs to be formalized like you're doing here, Ovan. It's not only something to pass through.

Thai Chan-Grullon   on Wednesday 09/04/2019 at 11:54 AM

Thought provoking and really hits home with the call for adaptability. More and more I find that students struggle to adapt in the ever changing field of health care. Congrats on this piece. I would be interested in a possible follow-up with recommendations of tools you are finding helpful in the development of these skills.

Charles Lehman   on Wednesday 09/04/2019 at 04:07 PM

Good article on an important topic that career counselors need to be aware of

Henry Joerz   on Saturday 09/14/2019 at 12:27 PM

Congrats on your position I couldn’t agree more even the construction industry will see increasing impact on trades with 3D printed buildings. The logistics space will see dramatic changes as material science formulates new materials that can be printed ie conductors within a non conductive matrix. God Bless your work and career!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.