Is Industry 4.0 a blessing or a curse for alleviating the skilled labor shortage in the electronics industry? The emotional discussion of the “labor market 4.0” goes on – not only in the electronics manufacturing industry. Scientific studies of the impact of Industry 4.0 on the labor market are published almost daily and paint horror scenarios. At the same time, calculations of the potential job disruptions and substitutions resulting from digitization look more realistic all the time. But what will come after the big job market collapse that’s being forecast? Since I have been pondering this question, I would like to share my personal thoughts regarding the labor market of the future with you today.
Reading just part of the latest studies on future labor market developments can be frightening. A research department of ING DiBa, for example, calculated already in 2015 that automation threatens roughly 59 percent of all jobs in Germany. 59 percent! Nevertheless – it always pays off to take a close look at such numbers. Let’s start with the good news: Whenever drastic structural changes occur, gloomy predictions like these are totally normal and no real cause for worry. All industrial revolutions in the past were accompanied by fear and initial rejection – especially in Europe. Just think of the doomsday predictions in the 1970s and 80s when the first personal computers hit people’s desks. Let’s rather look at the positive side of these “predictions”: while jobs of the type we know today are eliminated, (hopefully) more and entirely new work concepts and occupational profiles are created. What may these look like concretely?
Unfortunately, the scientists don’t know, and all I can do here is speculate and presume what the working environment of the future will look like once everything has been digitized. One common denominator we already know: the jobs of the future will be more demanding in terms of creativity, technical expertise, and social skills. There is no doubt that they will require new educational and training concepts, but that’s a separate discussion. But what these reforms should produce is technical staff with entirely new capabilities and a new set of knowledge. We will see new occupational fields and working environments, while others will inevitably disappear. Does this mean that we will soon be surrounded exclusively by computer nerds who are proficient in digitization techniques from the ground up? I personally believe that the answer is yes. We will become increasingly dependent on experts who are able to get the necessary data and properly process it. What kind of data will that be? Well, it will require many different creative people from a wide range of departments. But researchers disagree on HOW deeply the requirements on the cognitive capabilities of tomorrow’s workers will change. I believe that “trial-and-error” is what’s called for here, both in science and in industry, where the first digitization departments are just now being established with entirely new occupational fields and job descriptions.
So much for the theory. The question is: what can we as SMT solution providers do to play a role in shaping these new occupational fields? The first step, I believe, is to think about the total impact of digitization – not just on the factory floor, but in all other areas of the enterprise that will be equally affected by this trend as well. The “smart organization” should not remain a buzzword. Only if we understand the impact of digitization on the company as whole will we be able to develop stringent and interactive work concepts for our teams and technology partners as we shape sustainable new working environments for the entire enterprise.
The second lever, I believe, is the enhanced provision of data. Without data, electronics manufacturers will not be able to fully exploit the creativity needed to come up with individual solutions. Some initial approaches already exist in the SMT industry. At ASM, for example, we already provide technologies for putting machine-generated data packages to use in third-party applications. They enable users to actively identify potential improvements for their factories and develop solutions that are smart and sustainable. This is just one of many examples how we as an SMT solution provider can help electronics manufacturers master the transition to the digital era easily and seamlessly. What role do you believe SMT solution providers should play in shaping the industry’s working environment of the future? I look forward to your comments and suggestions.