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Theme 2: Responding to Industry 4.0

The 4th Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0  (i4.0)[1]  will have far reaching impacts across all areas of the global economy. It is largely driven by four specific technological developments: high-speed mobile Internet, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation, the use of big data analytics, and cloud technology, with AI and automation expected to have the most significant impact on global employment [2].

Although it is expected that AI and automation will significantly decrease numbers of full time staff as robots replace many existing jobs [3], a recent World Economic Forum report predicts that 38% of businesses believe AI and automation technology will allow employees to carry-out new productivity-enhancing jobs and over 25% of companies think automation will result in the emergence of new roles [4].

The need to rise to both the challenges and opportunities posed by i4.0 is recognised by the EU Commission which has created a new Digital Europe programme with an overall budget of €9.2 billion over the period 2021-2027, in order to shape and support the digital transformation of Europe’s societies and economies. The programme will boost frontline investments in supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and advanced digital skills [5].

The automotive industry is rapidly transforming towards Industry 4.0 (i4.0) with massive advancements in technology development and processes [6]

Available evidence underlines the scale of the impact these changes are already and will have on the automotive industry.  Recent research [7] highlights a number of key impacts on the workforce and skill requirements in the sector including the following: 

  • Digitisation will cause a decline in low-skilled jobs linked to an increased use of robots, programmed to perform manual and routine task – The implication is that many low skilled workers will need to upskill to tasks that utilise ‘human skillsets’ that for the moment at least, are protected from  digitisation [8]
  • These social, creative and cognitive abilities that will become increasingly important include Leadership and strategic management; Operational expertise; Creativity; People development / coaching; Negotiation; Critical thinking; Problem solving; Emotional intelligence; Analytical abilities and Cyber security
  • Although Engineers are expected to remain crucial, the specific skillsets associated with engineers will evolve as technology evolves with developments such as autonomous vehicles.
  • More ‘hybrid’ jobs linked to new technological demands relating to i4.0 will also become more evident. 

There are examples of apprenticeships that have been developed or refined to try and meet the changing workforce skill requirements resulting from Industry 4.0. Recent research focussing on company initiatives to align apprenticeships to changes in advanced manufacturing highlights a number of examples of such developments [9] including:  

  • A project run by Bosch that offers selected learners a two-year high-training apprenticeship contract, during which, in addition to carrying out an exclusive master in Industry 4.0, the bi.t have the opportunity to spend six months in Germany in one of the Bosch Industry 4.0 plants of excellence [10].
  • The Jules Vernes Manufacturing Academy in France - Commencing in January 2021 a 3,000 m2 academy was opened with the aim of responding to changes in skills required to meet the needs of Industry 4.0. The centre is accessible to apprentices as part of specific modules of their particular educational path, while it will also be available to employees of industrial companies [11].

Specifically within the automotive sector there are also a number of examples of such developments including Jaguar LandRover which have recruited apprentices on to their Digital Degree Apprenticeships [12] and Bentley which have also recruited apprentices to focus on digital transformation within the enterprise [13].    

However, available evidence suggests that due to the rapid pace of innovation across the automotive industry, academic institutions are generally struggling to develop curriculums to match 

in-demand skills from the industry, underlining the need for educational institutions and industry to partner with one another to close this talent gap for the future workforce [14]

In terms of the potential impacts of these changes on apprenticeships, recent research suggests this is likely to imply the need to attract a higher level of applicant in order to be able to learn rapidly as jobs evolve and also the need to revise qualifications to take account of Industry 4.0 changes [15]

This last point is supported by recent survey work of German companies undertaken between mid-October and December 2017. The research indicates that nearly a third of companies responding to the survey indicated that new training apprenticeship occupations should be created as a result of digitalisation [16]. Far more German companies are in favour of some form of structural changes in the apprenticeship system in order to meet the changing skill requirements posed by increased digitalisation, with more than eight out of 10 companies in favour of the introduction of new supplementary qualifications and/or the modernisation of existing training occupations [17].

These changes highlight not only the need to ensure the content of relevant apprenticeships reflects changing skill requirements, but also, as advances in digital technology increases so do the possibilities for the innovative use of digital technology to deliver at least some aspects of apprenticeships.

These were issues highlighted as part of a European Skills Week 2020 (EVSW) online conference discussing green and digital skills in apprenticeships and vocational education and training, organised by the European Alliance for Apprenticeships (EAfA) [18]. In particular:
  • Ashwani Aggarwal from the International Labour Organization highlighted an increased reliance on e-learning, and a greater use of new technologies involving mobile apps, virtual reality and augmented reality as part of the delivery of apprenticeships. .
  • Attila Szekely [19] highlighted how OpenClassrooms [20] offers an all-online training model which removes both geographical and time constraints.

[1] Industry 4.0, also sometimes referred to as IIoT or smart manufacturing, marries physical production and operations with smart digital technology, machine learning, and big data to create a more holistic and better connected ecosystem for companies that focus on manufacturing and supply chain management.
[6] Navigating the future of work. Can we point business, workers, and social institutions in the same direction? By John Hagel, Jeff Schwartz, and Josh Bersin - Illustration by Tim Marrs; Deloitte Review 2017;
[7] How will the Fourth Industrial Revolution change jobs in the automotive industry?; ARM Automotive​​​​​​
[8] THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO COMPUTERISATION?; Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne September 17, 2013;
[9] Eurofound (2019), Company initiatives to align apprenticeships to advanced manufacturing, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg; Eckhard Voss, (wmp consult – Wilke Maack GmbH), Jeff Bridgford (King’s College London);
[14] T. Fiorelli, K. Dziczek und T. Schlegel, "Automation Adoption & Implications for the Automotive Workforce", 2019.
[15] Apprenticeships and ‘future work’: are we ready? Erica Smith, 2019
[16] Digitalisation of Apprenticeship in German Companies; 2019 joint Cedefop and OECD symposium The next steps for apprenticeship; October 2019 / Dr. Regina Flake, German Economic Institute
[17] CHAPTER 9. Digitalisation of apprenticeship in Germany; Status quo and support needs of companies © Dr Regina Flake and Dr David Meinhard - Cedefop/OECD (2021). The next steps for apprenticeship. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop reference series; No 118
[18] See Apprenticeships and the twin green and digital transition European Alliance for Apprenticeships online event 9-10 November 2020 - Meeting report
[19] Attila Szekely is VP Enterprise at OpenClassrooms, the leading online education-to-employment platform in Europe
[20] OpenClassrooms is a France-based online education platform for vocational training, providing courses in IT, technology, entrepreneurship, and digital skills. Courses are conducted fully online, through a mix of video resources, online reading, real-life projects and individual mentoring sessions.
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