CORDIS's article about BEYOND4.0 and H2020 programme results
An analysis of technology’s impact on companies and the labour market has led to rapidly accelerating policy reform on EU, national and company levels.
Industry 4.0 is the current ‘revolution’ in manufacturing. It relies on increasing digitisation, automation and data exchange through technologies including sensors, robotics, machine learning and AI. In line with the Internet of Things paradigm, Industry 4.0 focuses heavily on interconnectivity. The question of whether this ‘connected’ technology landscape inevitably leads to massive job losses is the subject of heated debate. The historically low unemployment and high employment in Europe and beyond would suggest the answer is no. The EU-funded BEYOND4.0 project set out to investigate the Industry 4.0 landscape. However, far more ambitious, the ultimate goal was to use insight to positively shape the social policy changes ahead, beyond 4.0.
Industry 4.0 for profit or inclusive growth: a tale of two companies
BEYOND4.0 investigated how companies deploy new technology in a way that creates jobs and inclusive growth. “We distinguished two types of companies: ‘learning organisations’ and organisations mainly out for quick profits. The former focus on creating learning workplaces – empowering employees with new knowledge – that foster product innovation and professional growth. The latter ensure profits – but mainly at the expense of employees and society. Research pointing to the risk of technology destroying workplaces concerns mainly the latter type of companies,” explains Steven Dhondt of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), scientific project coordinator. “If we want the digital revolution to lead to more and better work, companies must design work such that employees are learning from it,” he adds. Proactive skills provision to staff is a success factor for industry’s contribution to building a sustainable and resilient society.
‘Interacting skills’ essential to digital transformation
Perhaps the most important finding was the gap in current policy thinking that underestimates non-digital skills in digital transformation. “Workers need not only technical skills but other skills such as methodological, social and problem-solving skills. These skills are not new but now they must be integrated with digital skills to address individual tasks. These ‘interacting skills’ are what is important,” notes Dhondt. Analysis of both skills and tasks and their interactions is necessary to identify emerging skills gaps – which skill categories are needed in combination to do individual tasks.
Social policies for a flourishing digital future
More than 40 policy publications and 5 books – see Results/Publications for some examples – are already generating impact. Among highlights, “our proposal on ‘workplace innovation’ has been included in two opinion papers of the European Economic and Social Committee, and the European Commission has asked us to help shape its Industry 5.0 policy,” explains project manager Peter Oeij, also of TNO. The consortium was invited by national governments and myriad organisations, many of whom are building on BEYOND4.0’s outcomes, to help shape innovation policy. A proposed new framework for workers’ benefits, ‘participation income’, is now at the heart of Finland’s social security system reforms, an example closely followed by Italy and the Netherlands. It will tie financial benefits to work and other activities ‘civil society’ deems of interest. This contrasts with current ‘work-focused benefits’ including universal basic income that are related to work generally rather than doing work that benefits society. “Technology is not a threat to jobs but rather an opportunity for inclusive growth. Our future can and will be positive if companies and governments adjust their social policies to take advantage of these tremendous opportunities,” Dhondt concludes.