Machines that “arrange” their own maintenance, update themselves and order replacement parts. Work pieces that “know“ what they have to do and which final product they belong to. Maintenance engineers who read operations manuals on their smart glasses. All of these are a part of industry 4.0. Many branches – be it in production or in services – are already shaped by artificial intelligence and self-regulating systems. This has an influence on more and more jobs: farm workers, craftspersons, doctors and lawyers all have to deal with “smart“ devices, robots, sensors and interconnected media which support and control their work and which might even replace them entirely.

What remains for humans to do is that which even artificial intelligence cannot achieve because it requires emotional intelligence or negotiating skills. There are still tasks that are impossible to complete without a holistic understanding and creative skills. And at the other end of the spectrum there are “simple“ tasks in particular which cannot be automated in an easy and cost-effective way – at least not yet. For the rapid developments in recent years – in voice control or pattern recognition for instance – shows that both cognitively demanding tasks and straightforward manual jobs can be influenced by automation. Examples are the fields of medicine and care.

So, what are the skills future employees need to hold their own in the industry 4.0? This question can hardly be answered in general. But the mmb Institute could still perceive some trends in its 2017 analysis of several studies about industry 4.0. Experts agree that in addition to subject-specific knowledge and IT skills, social and personal skills will gain importance. Problem-solving skills, communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively will play an increasingly important role in a highly automated work environment. Employees are increasingly required to understand systemic connections, analyze data, share information with a team and finally take their own decisions.

Even though the requirements might differ, they seem to have one “meta-skill“ in common: the willingness to permanent, life-long learning. This does not only mean traditional learning in courses or seminars, but rather the willingness to constantly renew one’s knowledge through digital learning material. Today there is a wide range of technologies available: webinars, video tutorials, mobile and social learning platforms, micro learning, game based learning and even sophisticated augmented reality scenarios. The world of learning has never been more colorful. Some of these offerings are still in their very early stages and there is not always a good fit between the desired learning outcome and the digital format used. In some cases, an explainer video or a podcast might be the right product to use while in other cases, a WhatsApp group or a wiki might be more helpful.

One thing is certain: “casual“, individual learning, or in other words, “informal“, media supported learning at work and at home, will become more important. Without being able to learn informally, employees will hardly be successful in companies which have to adapt quickly to innovations, new technologies, new customer requirements and new product cycles. And which company is not like that today?

To learn more, watch the video above by Uli Schmid, mmb Institute (German only)

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Competent for Industry 4.0?

Lutz Michel
About The Author
- Lutz P. Michel studied Slavonic linguistics, journalism and sociology at Münster University and earned his doctorate with a thesis on Russian literature and history of newspapers in 1980. For ten years, he was a research fellow at the university’s journalism institute and also taught at other public and private universities. He has been working in the field of applied media research since 1990, among others as managing director of infas Medienforschung GmbH, Bonn. In 1996, he founded the private research institute MMB – Michel Medienforschung und Beratung (today: mmb Institut GmbH), located in Essen and Berlin. He was the founder and long-term board chairman of the German e-learning network D-ELAN e. V and executive spokesman of the BITKOM work group Learning Solutions.

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