Airbus sets up "Factory of the Future" to ease digital transformation for staff.

Technological advances such as cooling T-shirts for hot, arduous assembly work, powered exoskeletons, glove and smart glasses with sensors that deliver information at exactly the right time go a long way towards easing work routines.

Human Relations 4.0 at Airbus

However, Industry 4.0 is likely to impact working conditions vastly and go far beyond innovations that ease the routine of work. Jan Balcke, 44, was appointed Director of the Human Relations 4.0 at Airbus on March 1 and focuses on changing workplaces and job requirements in future. Evolutionary, technological changes in day-to-day work over the next five years can be expected, Balcke noted, adding: "However, it is not yet clear which technologies will go into action." Employees remain at the centre of digital transformation in Industry 4.0 and must be taken on board.

Studies such as "Jobs lost, Jobs gained: Workforce transitions in a time of automation" (December 2017) by the McKinsey Global Institute have predicted massive job losses through increasing automatisation and the spread of artificial intelligence. Balcke, on the other hand, believes certain kinds of work will be eliminated and new tasks gained. "It will essentially be a shift."

Hypotheses from think tank, learning in lab environment

For this reason, Airbus has launched the Factory of the Future which includes Human Relations 4.0. "We are turning the new demands resulting from technical transformation into HR solutions," said Balcke. The first step consists of developing theories in a kind of think tank to find answers to questions about what is changing, where and at what speed. The next step focuses on developing HR 4.0 concepts that are tested in a laboratory environment before being applied to a real working area.

"That includes setting up research and training factories where employees deal with new technologies and can try them out in a protected environment." Experimenting with these new technologies will help allay employees' fears. "Ultimately, many people will probably enjoy handling smart glasses and exoskeletons gloves," Balcke believes. Such new working tools are only part of human-machine interfaces and the so-called cyber-physical systems - mechanisms that are controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms and which are integrated with the internet and users.

Importance of coding as a basic qualification

Being open to new things is important. "And not for a limited period of time. We are talking about a long-term development, which requires us to remain open to technical innovations and implementing them in a production process." Changes prompted by Industry 4.0 impact jobs in both offices and production, Balcke stressed and predicted a reduction in purely management duties and a rise in data and process analyses. "We will certainly see more AI-based knowledge systems and coding will probably gain importance as a basic qualification in future." Advanced training opportunities for these new fields of work should be developed and along interdisciplinary lines. "We will very likely see hybrid profiles with - a mix of academia and commerce." Diverse fields of work and disciplines are being intermingled as the real and virtual worlds come closer together on course to Industry 4.0

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