What is the impact of Industry 4.0 on the quality of workers’ jobs?

Written by Hans Wortmann

While the economy gets more and more over heated, there is shortage of people everywhere. This problem is in manufacturing industry quite pressing: qualified employees are nowhere available. Consequently, investments in shop floor digitization become prominent, not so much because of a good ROI, but more often in order to increase production. These investments have a broad scope, and they are denoted as Industry 4.0 or Smart Industry. However, what is the effect of Industrie 4.0 (or Smart Industry) on the quality of workers’ jobs? If the work becomes monotonous and dull, the best employees are the first to leave the company!

Opinions about this issue differ widely. Sometimes, experts predict an increase in unskilled labor, while other experts predict a decrease. Still others predict an increase in demand for highly skilled craftsmen. Such diversing opinions are even encountered within one company. Academic research also frequently refers to the digital divide in the workforce, suggesting that digitization leads to jobs which are either too monotonous or too demanding.

Nevertherless, who is in charge to design the jobs of shop floor workers? This is the task of work preparation – manufacturing engineers. However, these engineers are trained to describe the actions needed to obtain a good product. This is not the same as to describe the job elements which lead to a motivated employee. Moreover, manufacturing engineering has to make a shift in the digital era: for example, there is a choice between a high level of detail in monitoring work progress or a much more coarse level of detail. Also, a shift may occur in the division of labor between the manufacturing engineer and the shop floor worker: tasks such as robot programming or loading of NC programs can be performed by manufacturing engineers or by the craftsmen on the floor. Whoever performs the work, there is obviously need for training for such tasks.

However, who is in charge to determine if craftsmen get training and further education? Who determines the division of labor between manufactruing engineers and senior craftsmen? This is the task of factory senior management, not the task of manufacturing engineers. In the end, quality of the workers’ jobs on the factory floor is determined by factory senior managerment, who are investing in digitization, and not by the technology itself, nor by manufacturing engineers.

If a high quality of workers’ jobs is desired by factory senior management, then this management should act accordingly. The vision on jobs at het shop floor determines the choice for investments in digitization. Obviously, it makes sense to organize broad participation from the shop floor and from manufacturing engieering when designing tasks and when allocation responsibilities in developing these investments. Modern IT can can help again in organizing discussions and in implementing decisions. Digitale consultancy is a modern way to implement digital technology – Industry 4.0.

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