The workplace has changed decisively over the past few centuries. Due to automation, employees no longer stand along the production line: instead, machines take care of repetitive line work. Digitalisation has made it possible for us to optimise and accelerate processes. History shows that technical progress is necessary to be able to keep up economically, increase productivity, and reduce prices for products and services while paying higher salaries.
Then, as now, progress also brought change. It is also normal for many people to fear this change, as no one can predict exactly what change will bring. Machines may replace people, established career profiles could disappear, and the unemployment rate could increase. However, technical progress cannot be stopped and the current state of near-full employment and massive aging of Germany’s population means that the economy must respond to labour shortages by replacing people with machines. In addition, employees’ expectations have changed, and as a result, work-life balance, home working and flexible working models are valued more highly than ever before.
In order to meet employees’ needs and face up to inevitable technological change, we need digitalisation and progress – so what can we expect the next few years at work to look like?
Current studies show that digital transformation will bring both winners and losers in the field of employment. Some jobs will disappear, others will grow, and in a few years, futuristic jobs that do not currently exist will be routine. Everyone, both employers and employees alike, must adapt to digitalisation and the associated changes in working requirements by making it possible to take the necessary steps. Employees will, therefore, have to adapt their skills to keep pace. In concrete terms this means that, as career profiles evolve, employees will have to develop new skills and meet new challenges. Employers will need to invest in training to ensure that their workforces are qualified for these changed jobs if they are to acquire these skills. However, studies show that most OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) countries significantly reduced their expenditure on training for employees between 1993 and 2015. Sweden and Germany are at the forefront of this decline, with more being invested in employee training in Sweden and Germany as a percentage of GDP in 1993, making the contrast with today even more striking. Australia, Switzerland, and Denmark show precisely the opposite change: these countries are investing more in training their employees than they did in 1993. This trend is likely to continue across all countries, as the new professional challenges arising as a result of digital transformation and the associated demands on employees will require employees to demonstrate greater qualifications than ever before.
In the future, routine and physically demanding activities will be performed by machines, while people will still fulfil the role of controllers. This development will not necessarily lead to a reduction in the number of jobs, but there will be a shift towards higher quality, more intellectually demanding jobs. The requirements on employees will change accordingly. Specialist knowledge, self-management and creativity will be in greater demand than ever, resulting in lifelong learning through continuous professional development. That development must be desired by employees, and supported and facilitated by employers. This will enable businesses to remain competitive and keep pace with the appreciably rapid pace of change.
Alongside learning and development for employees, employer branding and employee liability will continue to grow in importance within businesses. As the labour force reduces in size, the German population continues to age, and continuous professional development becomes a core topic in everyday business, businesses will be increasingly conscious of the need to secure the loyalty of their most knowledgeable employees while also recruiting international labour resources, as employees‘ specialist knowledge is valuable and worth retaining. Moreover, it will not become easier to find and hire qualified workers with suitable skills on the labour market, meaning that many employers are already facing up to the need to catch up.
Robots instead of people in every role will never be enough to innovate and achieve economic success. Teamwork and brainstorming will continue to be essential in the future: no robot can replace teamwork, because complex problems in particular can be solved more efficiently by a team than by a machine. People in a team benefit from each other through their different perspectives and approaches. According to the World Economic Forum, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring with progress and development that will completely change our ways of working and living. The World Economic Forum has listed the “Top Ten Skills” for 2020, which employees will need to deliver effective work, with creativity heading the list.
People will need to be creative to be able to take advantage of the wide variety of new technologies, new way of working and new products. Robots will be able to help us with physically demanding work or faster processes, but not with creativity, nor by coming up with new ideas. Moreover, emotional intelligence, decisiveness, and critical thinking will be important human qualities that we will particularly need in the future, and which machines will be unable to replace.
Politics, economics, and society will all need to undergo a transformation. Measures will need to be introduced to ensure that digital progress can continue, is used effectively, and maintains its competitiveness. The EFI Expert Commission on Research and Innovation (EFI) addressed the “sphere of digital transformation” in its 2017 report, in which it also advanced potential political solutions. In particular, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should receive political support, while it should be made easier to implement digital technologies and business models. Similarly, digital education should become more important. As such, digital core competences should be taught to primary school children and teachers should receive continual training in technology. Apprenticeships and further and higher education courses should also involve more intensive delivery of IT skills, and this will also require further training for educators. Digital core competences are becoming increasingly relevant and will need to be integrated into people’s lives at an ever earlier stage, thereby ensuring that the next generation experiences digital transformation from an early age and is, therefore, as well-prepared as possible. Current employees must, as already described, be prepared for digitalisation via ongoing, continuous training.
The mobile internet and cloud technologies are already affecting the ways in which the majority of employees work. Some businesses have already introduced desk sharing and equipped their workers with laptops to meet the desires of both employees and employers for flexible working arrangements. Skype conferences are an everyday event, so that all colleagues can have a “round-table discussion” even if it spans national borders, or so that interviews can be held at short notice irrespective of geographic distance. Tradespeople complete their maintenance reports on digital tablets and send the documentation to their customers by e-mail. Digital transformation brings many benefits for the working environment and should not be stopped, as history has demonstrated that every transformation moves us a step further forward.
ARTS has kept up with the times and has recognised the benefits of digitalisation. Where necessary, we hold our interviews using Skype, all ARTS employees have an excellent internal network, and every employee is equipped with the latest technology. Apply now, join the team, and benefit from having ARTS as your employer.