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Interview with innovation researcher Marion Weissenberger-Eibl.

Innovation researcher Marion A. Weissenberger-Eibl On the jobs of the future and the role of digital education.

Ms. Weissenberger-Eibl, is digitalization a job killer?

A study conducted by the Fraunhofer ISI shows that digitalization offers many advantages for the job market. Every year, between 500 and 550 companies that employ digitalization technology relocate their production processes to Germany. That creates new jobs. In fact, many experts today are predicting that employment won’t drop, but the entire profile of the work we do may be in for a dramatic shift. Classic permanent positions will become less common in the future. They will be replaced by atypical employment models such as intrapreneurships and new forms of work such as the outsourcing of partial tasks traditionally assigned within organizations to voluntary Internet users (crowdsourcing). That applies to both high and low-skill positions. Digitalization will have an enormous impact on our economy. This could lead to the creation of more micro-sized enterprises in Germany than ever before, which in turn could change the basic structure of our economy.

Will we be competing with robots?

Technical actors won’t replace human workers, they will make human jobs easier. This could help people to increase their productivity. In the future, standard robots will be able to move around freely and adapt to help people carry out their tasks, for example, if the work to be completed is dangerous or if fine dexterity is required. In the field of medicine, for example, nanorobots may be used to distribute medicines throughout the human body. Studies show that this increases efficiency while generating completely new and attractive fields of work, and, by the same token, creating jobs.

What kinds of qualifications will ‘Work 4.0’ require?

Traditional qualities such as curiosity, reliability, ambition and good organizational skills will no longer be sufficient for success in the workplace of the future. It will become increasingly important for workers to market their own skills – ideally on the Internet – in order to attract the interest of companies. Potential employees will need to strengthen their basic universal digital skills and older employees must prepare themselves to meet the challenges of the digital job market. In a highly-connected economy, value creation processes could be divided into ever smaller units, and companies would flexibly allocate these individual tasks to external service providers. In the future, this connection could be a decisive factor in the success of a person’s career. Of course, a certain level of digital expertise is required, and these skills are often lacking.

So what do we do?

Education is the key to success. We have to work now to lay the groundwork that will give people the chance to actively shape the digitalization process – and ensure that the future of work is a bright one. It’s important that we don’t let the digital revolution just happen on its own. By 2030, work processes could be far more homogeneous than they are today. Many tasks along the boundaries between human and machine interaction will become increasingly similar, making it possible for employees to work across different industries, and rendering basic digital skills a necessity. This will require us to adjust the way we look at education, which is currently focused on specialization and expert knowledge. The most important thing is that we learn to understand our creativity, our problem-solving skills, and our ability to communicate and interact as core assets. The goal is to take advantage of all of the potential digitalization has to offer.

How can companies respond?

Last but not least, the increasing shortage of skilled specialists should motivate companies to train their employees instead of going through the long and expensive process of recruiting new personnel. Companies should help to foster development in their own workforce, particularly for unskilled and semi-skilled workers, by creating specialized qualification mechanisms to help prepare them for the digital future. That would allow companies to take advantage of the collected knowledge and user experiences of its employees, qualities which should not be underestimated.

Picture credits: Franz Wamhof

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