Positive models...please

An overall reflection on the direction in which Industry 4.0, workers and the digital world are headed, in Italy and beyond.

Dec 2017

The “protagonists of the fourth industrial revolution” and their stories in the factories of the future. That was the topic of Avio Aero’s traditional end-of-year event, held in Rome at the end of November. The starting point for discussions was the book “The New Wrench”, written by Edoardo Segantini, journalist for Il Corriere della Sera. Among the 14 stories he tells is that of Serena Barbieri, a young engineer who works in the Avio Aero facility dedicated to additive manufacturing. She was also one of the evening’s attendees. Together with Segantini, Paolo Boccardelli, Director of Luiss Business School and Stefano Firpo, Director General of Industrial Policy, Competition and SMEs at the Ministry of Economic Development, also sparked a rich exchange of ideas on new generations and professions, on skills being transformed alongside the industrial landscape and on the search for new educational models for the workers of tomorrow. Below you can see the comments and new ideas for reflection from the journalist and author of the book, which we gathered during the event.  

"Presenting your own book is a useful and laborious opportunity for discussion and listening. It’s like writing it all over again. This is just how I felt after being invited to Rome by Avio Aero to present ‘The New Wrench. Stories of the people in the factories of the future’, published by Guerini. Paola Mascaro, Communications and PA leader for Avio Aero, led a compelling discussion focused on the issues and relevant to our times. Interesting speeches were made by my interlocutors, Director General at the Ministry of Economic Development Stefano Firpo and Luiss Business School Director Paolo Boccardelli.

I wouldn’t want to try and summarize a debate that was so rich in ideas, reflections and nuances. Instead I will pick up some of the issues this debate led me to reflect on. First of all, however, I’d like to spend a bit of time talking about what my book is and what it is not. First and foremost it is an investigative journey, lasting more than a year, into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, seen through people and not through machines. A handful of men and women on different rungs of the hierarchical and social ladder, who have a few traits in common. They love their jobs. They like a good challenge. They know how to work in a team. They keep themselves up-to-date: alternating between school and work is in their blood, as we mentioned during the discussion. They are not, however, cartoon heroes, figurines that make up a perfect Industry 4.0 collector’s album. They are real men and women. They have celebrated triumphs and suffered setbacks.

I chose their stories because I think we could all do with positive role models. These days, incorrect views and depressing beliefs are everywhere, partly down to us in the media. Humans are destined to be pushed further and further to the edges of the production process. Industry in Italy is dying. Alternating between school and work is a trap that harms young people. This is fake news, or rather fake views, and yet it is everywhere, driven by a depressed country in a bad mood. A country that looks upon any positive predictions with suspicion.

When I saw a group of young people interrupting the opening ceremony of the academic year at the excellent Bicocca University in Milan with a protest, I thought perhaps we haven’t managed to explain to young people the world of business, work and education. Perhaps we haven’t even tried. I believe we need positive models, because the evolution of technology in the workplace doesn’t depend on fate, but on us. That's why I felt it was important to highlight how, in the best companies (those that provide opportunities for continuous improvement, build competitive supply chains, and increase productivity and responsiveness to increasingly variable markets), people play an increasingly central role. Operators as technicians, managers as entrepreneurs. I am convinced that the successful companies of tomorrow will be those that maximize and increase the creativity of the human element.

In order for this to happen, however, we must make at least two important changes: one to salaries and the other to education. We can’t talk about 'enhanced workers' if they are enhanced only in terms of responsibilities and not paychecks. Then comes the challenge of education, which is crucial and which I wanted to focus on even more during my latest book presentations. The lags in the Italian educational system compared to the German one are resounding: only 8% of our workers update their professional skills compared to 30% in Germany. Some things are moving in the right direction: Economic Development Minister Carlo Calenda is introducing a tax credit for those who invest in education and training. Important corporate institutions (such as business academies) and territorial organizations (such as MUNER Motorvehicle University in Italy’s Motor Valley) are being born. The Centers for Work-Based Learning under Plan Industry 4.0 have not yet begun, however, while Germany has already launched five out of its fifteen planned centers. Things, in short, are moving, but too slowly, thanks in part to paralyzing bureaucracy.

 Finally, I believe that communication should be strengthened in order to inform everyone, young and old, about the business world in the correct terms. Only a good business system can produce jobs, only a good educational system can create useful professional skills, and only a good social system can generate the antidotes to combat old and new inequalities."