(image: © Sogodel Vlad)
What will the digital working environment of the future look like? The debate on the labor market 4.0 could hardly be more controversial. And it also and especially accounts for the electronics industry. As with all future-oriented concepts, there is plenty of room for speculation as fears and hopes characterize the discussion. Let’s take a look at what our industry is actually doing. A prime example is Eastern Europe, an area with lots of EMS activity.
It is no longer a secret that Eastern Europe has made major gains on China in the EMS market and even caught up in some areas. A more efficient and flexible supply chain, low labor costs, improved control capabilities and its strategically favorable location are some of Eastern Europe’s advantages. The willingness to invest continues to be huge. HELBAKO just opened a new plant in Timișoara (Romania), to name just one of the many new international footprints in this country. And the unemployment rate in this region was only 1.38 percent in June 2015. Every coin has a flip side, however, and as a result of this kind of overemployment the EMS centers of Eastern Europe suffer from an acute skilled labor shortage. The fight for the best people exists not only between electronics manufacturers (although the fluctuation rate between companies speaks for itself), as the many shopping centers in Eastern Europe are serious competitors in the labor market. Many employees prefer a job in an elegant shopping center over working on an SMT production line. I was told by people who know from own experience, that the duties are – at least at first glance – easier and more pleasant, especially since the level of pay is comparable.
(images: © Marius Pirvu / © Industrieblick)
The shortage of labor has become an urgent and far-reaching problem for the SMT industry. The practice of ‘extra pay for fresh blood’ shows how desperate manufacturers are to get new people for their SMT lines. Does this mean that the Eastern Europe’s EMS boom and era of innovation are coming to an end? Or will “version 4.0” of the labor market bring new opportunities?
Regional Unemployment Rates in Romania
(Quelle: AHK Studie 2016, http://rumaenien.ahk.de/fileadmin/ahk_rumaenien/Publicatii/Presse/2016/brochure_2016.pdf)
However controversial the talk about labor market 4.0 may be – one fear is common: the skilled labor shortage is viewed as a serious threat to the implementation of Industry 4.0. Companies are afraid that there are simply too few operators to satisfy the need for highly qualified people who can put modern automation technologies to use. Will the shortage pose a hindrance to Industry 4.0?
If yes, then I would say that our vision of Industry 4.0 has missed its mark completely, because the concrete implementation of a smart factory should focus on supporting the existing staff, and the solutions being offered by ASM certainly do. For example, the new SIPLACE BulkFeeder eliminates the cumbersome tape splicing process, and the ASM Line Monitor, SIPLACE Material Tower and SIPLACE Material Setup Assistant are smart info-tools that supply the line staff with useful information and active support on what’s happening on the line, in the setup preparation area, and even in the warehouse. With new step-by-step instructions provided by these systems, even barely trained employees become capable of carrying out complex tasks. The positive consequence, especially in regions with a tight labor market: fewer operators are needed, the circle of potential operators is expanded, and the improved working conditions make jobs on the SMT line more attractive. Especially in booming EMS markets with serious labor shortages, it is becoming apparent that Industry 4.0 is an excellent recipe against the skilled labor shortage for the simple reason that it is not an elitist concept requiring high-flying qualifications.
Since there is no relief in sight for the tight labor market in the EMS hot-spots of Eastern Europe, our industry needs to view the work environment with a fresh set of eyes. The demands on employers will continue to increase in this region, and not only with regard to pay. To position yourself as an attractive employer, you must provide attractive workplaces and working conditions, and the smart factory has the right tools for doing this. Automation makes unpleasant and/or highly complex tasks easier while helping operators to carry out manual activities with maximum efficiency wherever possible. Getting back to our opening question whether Industry 4.0 is a blessing or a curse for alleviating the skilled labor shortage, we can state that for EMS market in Eastern Europe it is definitely a blessing.