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 fashionable and difficult to grasp as it is, skills are a key element when analyzing the impact of Industry 4.0 on people. Key because it affects a significant number of jobs and difficult to grasp because the approach is sometimes vague. This leads to an alteration of injunctions between “it’s no more complicated than using a smartphone” and “we need to renew all the skills in the factory”.
Develop a pragmatic approach to skills
In order to understand the intrinsic qualitative world of skills it is important to have a framework including a set of competencies that will allow us to channel our thoughts.
To build this framework we need to use a structured approach. The first rule is to stick to the skills that are linked to real changes in employees’ daily lives. One must be able to associate its own skill with a new task, a new way of working, in order to put it in a job framework. The second rule, resulting in part from the first, is to restrict oneself to the skills required by Industry 4.0 without seeking to be exhaustive, which would make it possible to describe the least amount of know-how required for pre-existing tasks. What remains is the definition, at least briefly and even generically, of what each level of mastery of the skill covers.
Skills related to Industry 4.0 tools
Following these two principles, The first thing we observe is an increased need for skills directly linked to the use of new production tools. This starts with Digital Literacy. It is true that more and more people are familiar with the use of digital tools, being surrounded by them on a personal basis. This is certainly one of the characteristics of Industry 4.0 and of digital transformation in general, to have transformed our personal and professional practices at the same time. Nevertheless, knowing how to surf on social networks with your own smartphone is not enough to build a digital culture. We need to understand how a digital tool processes information as a whole, to be confident in handling the applications and to be aware of the limits of a computer tool without giving in to anthropomorphism. All this knowledge and know-how are part of Digital Literacy.
Once the digital tool has been mastered, the time has come to use it. We have previously pointed out that one of the major changes lies in the availability of structured data that can be transformed into actionable information by machines. In order to make the transition between these two states, it is necessary to deploy analytical skills. And before data science is really needed in the factory, it becomes important for operators, even at the first level, to organize simple data and put it into perspective in a way that a conclusion can be drawn from it and a concrete action can be taken. For instance: I can observe on a graph (and not via my direct perception) a deviation of the temperature of my machine every 5 hours, which causes a drop in quality and thus encourages me to foresee a slowing down of the production rate at regular intervals, in order to preserve a constant quality for my product and avoid losses due to non-conformity.
Transversal skills related to new ways of working
One of the particularities of Industry 4.0 is that its impact will be deployed progressively over many years as new digital solutions are introduced. Industrial populations will thus see their working methods change at a rapid pace with digital innovation. As a result, postures such as openness to change and innovation will become key success factors for industrial groups in the coming years.
Yet another trend has opened the door to another field of expertise. Once digitized, data can easily be shared within an industrial site or even between sites. The opportunities for exchanges between the teams multiply, whether it is a question of optimizing production and staffing schedules or collaborating with other sites, OEMs and design offices in a search for a root cause. Thus, skills such as communication and collaboration become real assets within industrial populations.
New skills, but not so new
As discussed in our previous articles, thanks to digital tools and especially mobile terminals, operators will have more room to perform other tasks. The first option is to enrich their technical know-how base in order to take advantage of this space while remaining in a relatively close area. That is why we observe the need to reinforce fundamental technical skills that are related to the original job. This means that an operator may be required to master new machines, but he may also be required to engage in new activities such as quality control or first-level maintenance.
This reinforces the versatility of operators in a context of increased flexibility of production lines. Logically, but rather counter-intuitively, we can see that the arrival of new digital technologies will require a boost in training on the most fundamental technical subjects.
This is where this journey to discover the human impact of Industry 4.0 comes to an end. Once you have been reassured about the potential control of its social impacts and have taken into account the evolution of jobs, this overview of critical skills provides you with the main keys to understanding how the new digital technologies will shape the industrial populations of tomorrow.
Contact our experts to discuss the human impact of the Digital Factory
Antoine Aubois Co-founder
Xavier Le Page Senior Manager
Christelle Villard Manager