Digital transformation affects all areas of the company. As consumers, we see it through the generalization of online commerce after having experienced the digitalization of our social relations.
Although less visible, the industrial world is no less spared by this transformation. Familiar with revolutions, it has even named this transformation Industry 4.0. While some dream of this transformation, others fear it particularly because of its consequences on human resources, the extent of which is sometimes difficult to anticipate.
In the following three articles, Christelle Villard, Xavier Le Page and Antoine Aubois, respectively Manager, Senior Manager and Partner at Akoya Consulting, a strategy consulting firm dedicated to human issues, share their observations on the major impacts of Industry 4.0 on the workforce, jobs and skills.
Our goal is to go beyond preconceived ideas without naivety or cynicism, but always with benevolence and pragmatism.
As explained in our first article about Industry 4.0, the impact of this new revolution on the industrial population is far from being neutral. We have seen that this impact remains relative and manageable from a social point of view. However, could this situation be hiding more worrying realities when we zoom in on the different jobs within a plant?
A job segmentation for a more detailed analysis
The first step is to define the scope of jobs in question. To do so, we need to build a job segmentation. Although the temptation is to rely on existing organizations, such an approach is often incomplete.
At Akoya, we prefer to build these job frameworks based on the skills used in everyday work. Jobs that share a very similar skill set are grouped into a common segment. These segments are then grouped with other segments that use similar skills within a coherent job family. The segmentation tree thus naturally materializes the most obvious mobilities between jobs, since, by definition, jobs of a common family have a smaller skill gap.
Repetitive jobs are the first to be threatened
Once we have established the segmentation, we need to quantify the impact of each of the Industry 4.0 projects, business by business. The first revolutions aimed to replace physically demanding jobs, leaving a number of repetitive tasks with little room for maneuver in factories. This is when the machine took over with automation.
One of Industry 4.0’s new features is the degree of autonomy robots can now enjoy. Previously restricted to a well-defined task in a secure environment, they are now capable of evolving autonomously in an open environment thanks to artificial intelligence. This is the case with AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), which replace forklifts and their drivers or cobots, which can be positioned directly on a line and replace an operator’s position.
This means that the jobs with the least room for maneuver are the first to be replaced. Will they disappear entirely? We have observed that this decline is often gradual. Although the robot directly replaces an operator and his machine, its return on investment is long to obtain and sometimes too long for its implementation to be considered relevant. This is why many jobs that have been predicted to disappear for many years still exist today. In a smaller proportion but without being threatened with extinction in the short term.
A limited number of new jobs will emerge
As we have already mentioned, and this is a necessary condition for the existence of autonomous robots, production lines are becoming full of sensors of all kinds. This means that instead of being carried out by an operator on a punctual basis, a measurement can now be carried out in real time by the line itself.
This data will enable the factory to become more efficient. However, in order to make this happen you need people who are able to extract right the data. As a result, we see more roles appearing on modernized factories, with the primary mission of analyzing this data and drawing continuous improvements out of it.
In addition, new roles will be created to ensure the proper functioning of these new tools. We can think in particular of the growing demand for automation specialists or for local managers of industrial IT systems in charge of ensuring the continuous operation of all the applications that have become critical in the production process.
On the other hand, it is important to remain cautious about the quantity of people needed for these new jobs. Future factories will not be populated by an army of data scientists from the GAFAs. After all, the level of skills required on a permanent basis in the factory remains moderate compared to what can be expected in office activities.
Numerous jobs in transformation
Nevertheless, the essence of jobs will change. While there will always be a need for a line operator, his or her role will evolve significantly. Not to the point of considering this role as a new job, but certainly as a different job requiring support for the concerned employees.
For instance, with its own sensors, the line can now know its own operating status and proactively warn the operator. The operator is thus relieved of a monitoring task in favor of new activities, sometimes in related areas.
For example, the operator will have to analyze some of the data and information produced by the machines. Thus, the added value of tomorrow’s jobs will come from the fact that they mobilize human intelligence and adaptability, which robots are not yet able to match at a comparable cost.
This transformation, although at first glance positive and beneficial, requires a real support for change. Many have gradually found, whether they admit it or not, a sense of comfort in the repetition of their daily tasks.
These new activities will thus require the mastery of new skills. Not only technical skills, but also behavioral ones. This is precisely the subject of the next article in our series dedicated to Industry 4.0.
Contact our experts to discuss the human impact of the Digital Factory
Antoine Aubois Co-founder
Xavier Le Page Senior Manager
Christelle Villard Manager