Work 4.0 – How will digitised industrial processes affect work?

Man with protective vest
© fotolia/industrieblick

Human and machine: New forms of interaction are creating opportunities in the way work is organised and are changing the demands placed on employees

Economic activity is becoming digital. But the people will remain. People will continue to be the decisive driver behind innovations and the continual development of products and services. The fundamental change will occur in the way these products and services are manufactured and delivered in the future. In the future, communication in factories will often be seamless and wireless, enabling employees to interact more efficiently with intelligent production equipment. This development will open up opportunities for work to be organised differently, for example with workplaces that are designed to be health-friendly, and more flexible and family-friendly working arrangements. At the same time it is important to test standards, e.g. in education and training, and to adapt them to new requirements.

Demanding technological and organisational occupations will bring jobs back to Germany

It is also likely that the share of routine jobs will fall. These are increasingly being taken on by intelligent machines. The convergence of digital communication technology and automated machines increases technological and organisational complexity. The flexible manufacturing that Industrie 4.0 enables will require employees to have a much broader range of skills in upstream and downstream processes. Skilled employees will be in greater demand in the future to make the decisions that no algorithm ever could. At the same time, employees must be trained and qualified for new roles.

For Germany as an industrial economy, new technologies that enable decentralised manufacturing can make it possible to bring jobs back from abroad. This can include urban locations, where highly skilled professionals are available.

These changes pose new challenges that should be addressed in the development of future working arrangements:

  • The boundaries between work and private life are becoming blurred. The rapid pace of technological development increases the pressure on workers to respond to demands more quickly and thus to be constantly available.
    Will this increase mental stress for workers? What can be done to prevent this?

  • Software and sensors monitor production processes. This raises concerns that workers will also become the subject of this supervision and control in the future.
    Which solutions provide freedom for workers while guaranteeing the necessary networking of information flows?

  • Working within project structures often means getting stuck in short-term employment that does not come with social security insurance. The legal provisions, e.g. for labour protection, reach their limits in this respect.
    What adjustments can be made to the law to give businesses the necessary room to manoeuvre and simultaneously guarantee workers fair employment and social security?

  • New skills are needed.

    How can employees be trained in current, practically relevant fields?
    How can the exclusion of low-skilled workers be prevented?

A new training culture – companies need strong partners

Diverse training opportunities and working practices that promote learning are decisive for the success of Industrie 4.0. In order to evolve and adapt continuously, both professional and academic education and training require there to be an ongoing dialogue between industry, politics and society.

Work-related issues and Plattform Industrie 4.0

Plattform Industrie 4.0 pays special attention to this topic. A working group consisting of experts from the field focuses on the topic of work, training and education to find answers to the challenges described and to test solutions. Further information about the working group is available here.