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What does the future of industry 4.0 mean for your job?

By Dirk Hahn, COO and Group Strategic Director, Hays Germany

Industry 4.0 is nothing new, especially where I am based in Germany. I still remember when this term began to gather momentum at the 2011 Hannover fair, following a great deal of research conducted by the Ministry of Education. We were introduced to the idea that machines could create virtual replicas of the physical world in order to make decentralised decisions and operate in real life situations, in real time. An incredible concept, to say the least, and one we never could have predicted would take such force. And yet here we are, seven years later, witnessing the automation of formerly manual processes in order to enhance efficiency, productivity and output. But what does this mean for the world of work?

What does Industry 4.0 mean for the workforce as a whole?

First off, let’s recap exactly what Industry 4.0 actually means on a broader scale. Industry 4.0 describes the digital transformation of conventional industrial and manufacturing processes by linking technologies including the internet of things (IoT), big data, augmented reality (AR) and virtualisation, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital communications infrastructure. Forecast to deliver a paradigm shift in industrial output and create fundamental changes in labour market dynamics, Industry 4.0 delivers benefits, ranging from decentralised decision making in real time by machines running industrial plants, and re-shoring of manufacturing plants to advanced economies.

And as revolutionary as these changes are, there’s no escaping the widespread concern surrounding how Industry 4.0 will impact the jobs market. It’s estimated that as machines increasingly run themselves, we will inevitably see middle-skilled roles disappearing. This finding was evidenced in the latest Hays Global Skills Index (the Index) – a comprehensive study conducted by Hays and Oxford Economics, analysing labour market trends across 33 countries. The Index found that “improvements in technology will likely lead to a ‘hollowing out’ of jobs distribution, whereby some middle-skilled jobs disappear.”

However, the Index goes on to outline how more jobs will be created in both lower and higher-skilled occupations, ultimately meaning that automation will generate more jobs than it destroys. This is compounded by further evidence in the Index, predicting that technology will reduce the cost of producing goods and services, which “in turn will raise the purchasing power of consumers, whose extra spending creates new jobs.”

Our Index findings have been supported by the prominent research conducted by the World Economic Forum and cited in this Guardian article. The study which looked into the roles of over 15 million workers across 20 different nations, found that ultimately, the rise of machines, robots and algorithms will create more jobs (133 million) than it culls (75 million). The article goes on to quite rightly conclude that automation will transform rather than destroy the jobs market. The question is, how will the next chapter of Industry 4.0 transform your job in the near future?

Money machines – Industry 4.0’s impact on financial talent planning

The financial sector is a major investor in new technology. However, according to my colleague Carl Piesse, finance professionals struggle to adapt to Industry 4.0 technologies through lack of knowledge: “Ninety-four per cent of financial services professionals suspect colleagues of using buzzwords such as ‘blockchain’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ despite not understanding their meaning.”

Carl notes that experts in AI, cryptocurrency, blockchain and cybersecurity – all Industry 4.0 enabling technologies – are among the hottest in-demand fintech skills for 2018. Hays Australia’s Emma Neville reiterates this: “The digitalisation of banking, along with the vast amount of confidential data that banks hold, makes financial organisations a very attractive target of cybercrime.”

The wider financial skills base will also need to change, as chief financial officers (CFOs) adapt to Industry 4.0’s fundamentally different value chains. How will CFOs evaluate new investments when their ‘plant managers’ are robots? And what skills will you specify when hiring your next finance director?

The bearing of Industry 4.0 on engineers

Clearly, talent and skills demand for production, process, chemical and mechanical engineering within industrial and manufacturing will change, but what about other engineering disciplines?

Oil and gas, mining and energy are long-standing users of IoT, automation and big data, and a move to the benefits of Industry 4.0 is underway. For marine and offshore engineering – a sector that combines both innovative and change-averse characteristics – the picture is more complex.

Within the less process-based construction sector, civil and structural engineers continue to benefit from technology without roles fundamentally changing. However, as construction becomes increasingly industrial, with modular buildings being manufactured on the production line and not on site, this will evolve.

Engineering skills across all disciplines will be needed to design, build, troubleshoot and maintain Industry 4.0 technologies. But the skills and workforce you require to fulfil your staffing needs will shift as new technology is adopted.

The reshaping of marketing roles

According to the Marketing AI Institute: “many tasks that eat up much of a marketer’s day will be automated”. This includes administrative tasks such as the A/B split testing of emails or uploading social media updates – something which is already happening to a large extent.

However, AI will also automate more skilled tasks such as analysing large sets of data, drafting social copy, or putting together SEO optimised headlines. Whilst marketing teams will, of course, need to learn how to work with this technology, this will ultimately free up their time to upskill and take on more strategic roles.

‘Technology on steroids’ – life sciences adopting Industry 4.0

The life sciences, healthcare and medical sectors are experiencing their own version of Industry 4.0. AR and multisensory medicine promise to revolutionise healthcare environments, with smart research using big data and analytics to vastly improve the efficiency and outcomes of clinical research.

Facilitated by Industry 4.0 technologies, gene editing or genome engineering, molecular engineering is embarking on a journey to automation. This will drive increased collaboration between scientists and engineers, but also raises ethical challenges requiring suitably skilled workers to address.

Trends in biopharma recruitment are being driven by Industry 4.0-like ‘technology on steroids’, as we see ‘tech giants like Google, Apple, IBM and Samsung all investing in the development of AI to diagnose and treat disease’.

Soft skills will ensure a successful transition to Industry 4.0

Ensuring your workforce, be they engineers, marketers, scientists, financial specialists or managers, have the right professional and technical skills so your organisation benefits from everything Industry 4.0 promises to deliver is only part of the workplace challenge.

Softs skills, including good communication, underpin the implementation of Industry 4.0, starting with a leadership team that is skilled at change management. Hays CIO Steve Weston, explains that leaders who: “communicate with staff across every level of the organisation are eight times more likely to run successful transformation projects compared with those that do not.”

Steve goes on to highlight that, as well as having the technical understanding of the technologies underpinning Industry 4.0, CIOs on the leadership team needs to be “responsive to the changes digital transformation brings to the workforce”.

In my earlier blog about securing buy-in from your board, I highlight how McKinsey reports that 96% of global 500 companies’ leadership teams are not ready for digital change. This demonstrates that communication and an aptitude for constant learning are essential soft skills at all levels of your organisation.

As explained above, the manufacturing and production benefits of Industry 4.0 are only part of the story. Digital transformation will deliver many other benefits. For example, the data generated by your operations may have value beyond your own organisation – it may be marketable in its own right. To fully exploit these opportunities, customer focus, commercial awareness and problem-solving are all part of the soft skills mix for every candidate, regardless of their professional background and role.

For more information or to discuss your employment needs, please contact your local consultant.

About this author

After receiving the degree of Diplom-Kaufmann (graduate in Business Administration), Dirk Hahn began his career with Hays in 1997. Initially working as a department head, Dirk progressed to Divisional Manager and then Director of Sales. In January 2008, Dirk was appointed Chief Operating Officer and joined the Management Board of Hays AG.

Dirk is responsible for the Engineering, Construction & Property, Life Sciences and Healthcare sales specialisms in Hays Germany, as well as the company’s recruitment management division and subsidiaries in Switzerland and Austria. He has been a member of Hays Global Management Board since 2017.

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