The young, the old and Industry 4.0

Discussion of a time of major transformations in industry and inter-generational conflicts involving workers, skills and talents.

Oct 2017

What kind of training do people working in industry 4.0 need? Which "traditional" skills will continue to be the winning ones? What will make the difference? 

We discuss all this with Annalisa Magone, Chair and CEO of the “Torino Nord Ovest” research and consulting center, and author of the book "Industry 4.0. Men and Machines in the Digital Factory", which describes the organizational changes in companies facing the challenges of industry 4.0. 

“It would be wonderful if there were just one answer but, behind the statistics, every company is a law unto itself. It has a profile that depends on many different factors: industry, market, product, size, business plan, corporate mindset, management and quality of human resources. Although we cannot talk in general terms about the distinctive skills needed by the worker 4.0, we can certainly describe how the way of working is going to change. According to designer and ergonomist Sebastiano Bagnara, in the future work will be more heterogeneous, fluid yet uniform, varied and flexible, unpredictable, systematic. Even today, as factories undergo transformation, the terms most often used to describe the new worker are flexibility, passion, imagination, engagement, responsibility, motivation, integration, and ability to work in a team."

Is there the risk that industry 4.0 could trigger an inter-generational conflict with regard to talent, training and employment?

"Tensions between generations as they each try to impose their own vision of the world are a guarantee that society is evolving, developing and adapting to change. From this point of view, the idea of a conflict between the digitally literate younger generation and the older generation, who have with invaluable experience garnered over time, is one of the many misconceptions that abound when discussing the fourth industrial revolution. Personally, I think a bit of generational revolution could be good for a society generally unwilling to acknowledge young people's skills and decision-making capacities.

All the same, the problem of how to hand down skills acquired on the job is not an easy one, and may have serious implications for industry 4.0. Digital working aids enable us to raise our gaze from the tool to the process, but by not getting physically to grips with the problem we run the risk of losing the ability to recognize mistakes.

As Nevio Di Giusto, long-serving head of the Fiat Research Center, told us, experienced staff often do not know how to use tools as efficiently as young people, so they have high potential and low dynamics. Young people, on the other hand, have high dynamics and low potential, so they run the risk of committing major mistakes, in an environment that operates at high speed but is lacking in skills and knowledge of the potential risks. The real challenge is how to put experience and knowledge inside machines, so subsequent users can do more things, at higher speed, without making mistakes."

Which factors should an organization consider when trying to identify the professionals of the future, internally or externally?

"The European roadmap for the Factories of the Future published by the EFFRA (European of the Future Research Association) identifies six domains of application: they include advanced, adaptive and intelligent production processes, virtual factories, data acquisition and management, collaborative companies with dynamic supply chains, customer-focused production, and also human-centered production, meaning giving due value to the role of people within factories.

The main aim is to develop new forms of interaction, so that future factories can be managed profitably and, at the same time, provide employees with a stimulating environment and make the best possible use of their skills and knowledge. The most obvious feature of the transformations now under way is that companies are tending to demand an almost emotional engagement from workers. But for all those involved, this mechanism will only work if people see there is something in it for them."