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Industrial Revolution 4.0 and employment.

The solution, or a disaster for the workforce? How to acknowledge the value of the workforce and let them accept the process of innovation and automation within a production facility.

Author: YS Koen – Klaten – 15 January 2020

Before discussing this topic, we want to emphasize clearly that this is our opinion, the opinion of the board of P.T. Emas Cemerlang Bersama. When we write about the sector in this article, this is mainly focused on fashion production in Indonesia, but perhaps our views also apply to the global fashion production sector, or to every production sector.

Let’s start by clearly indicating that fully autonomous production facilities, dominated by robots, are still far away. Current technological developments do not allow this. Opponents of robot-driven innovation and automation preach “Doom and Gloom” without offering solutions. It is not possible for every production company to wait for what is to come. If a production company wants to remain competitive, it must constantly maneuver under changing market conditions and continue to develop, thus improving production efficiency through innovation and automation.

But what will this mean for employees? Mainly frequent repetitive actions will be taken over by collaborative industrial production robots. Low-skilled work will almost disappear as a result. Will this category of employees become superfluous and will mass layoffs be the result of this form of innovation and automation? As we wrote earlier in this article, employees will continue to be needed to complete production, transportation, and distribution within a production line. Only the activities will change. Fewer employees will be involved in an increasing production volume, but it is not for nothing that they are collaborative robots, together with the employees they complete a production process.

The fate of employees is therefore in the hands of employers. The employers have several options to choose from: Mass layoffs of production employees being replaced by robots, hiring staff that can collaborate with collaborative robots or (re) training the entire staff internally. We believe that the latter option will have a major positive effect. If employees are involved in development and innovation from the start, the natural resistance to innovation decreases immediately. But that also means that employees need a thorough education. By making the education a mandatory part of the work, this can have a much greater positive effect on production efficiency. The intensity of educating is up to the employer, weekly, several times a week, or even daily. The intensity will probably have to be increased in the beginning, after which it can be reduced at a later stage.

We ourselves are going to introduce an education consultant to our workforce, who will create a profile for every employee. This profile will make it clear at what level an employee will enter the education process. In addition, we will set up an education center ourselves, where initially the employees present will follow the education program course. The basic education program becomes part of the permanent activities and is therefore taught during working hours, this is a compulsory part for every employee. By making this a mandatory part of the work, it can be scheduled in the production schedules. It is extremely suitable to schedule this as a work break, however this should not be considered as a lunch break or similar, but a change of activities during working hours. Many repetitive actions, under high pressure, increase the mind-numbness of the work. A mandatory interruption can contribute to a better state of mind for the employee. As a result, the employee responds more alert and will therefore achieve better results over a longer period.

The education program can also be a suitable time to inform the employee in detail about the innovation process and the situation in the production facility in the future. Make the employee part of the innovation process. Do not create a situation in which the employee feels that he must compete with another party, the employee versus the production cobot. Work and tasks will change drastically after completion of the innovation and automation process. The education program ensures that the employee is better prepared for his new role.

To conclude this article, we will have to answer the question where this article started with. The solution, or a disaster for employees? Under strict conditions, it can be a big advantage for both the employer and the employee. The condition must be that the employer recognizes and respects the value of his employees. Employees often know the production facility better than the employer, the larger the company, the farther the top management is from the workplace. So, involving employees in the innovation and automation process has immediate major benefits.

An existing employee has a relationship with the company that a new employee will not have. Then one could choose to do the innovation and automation with new employees. They have no emotional connection with the past within the company and will therefore accept a new situation as if it were a standard situation. However, this has a serious impact on the culture within the company and is likely to change it completely. This process is guaranteed to damage the relationship of the company with its customers, suppliers and third parties. Is it worth it? So, if one chooses to implement the innovation and automation with the existing employees, then another strict condition is: EDUCATION, EDUCATION AND MORE EDUCATION. This must be done in the “boss’s” time and with retention of salary. Only then will the process of innovation and automation have a very solid chance of success and thus be accepted by existing employees.

We will end this article by indicating for whom this will be a disaster. The figures speak for themselves, the volume of a production line versus the number of employees. If the innovation and automation are implemented correctly, this ensures efficiency, increased uniformity and continuity in production. With fewer people more will be produced. Conclusion: fewer employees will be needed, while higher production numbers will be achieved, at falling costs. Fewer jobs are needed, which can be a disaster for the low-skilled future job seekers. But there is the advantage of an education center. Future employees can be better trained, task and goal oriented. Where jobs will disappear in a production line, new activities will be added. There will always be a future for employees in a production facility. But the work will be more versatile and that requires an investment from the employee, an investment of time to be trained. But for that, the employee also gets a more versatile job with opportunities for growth.

We see the future as positive, both for us and for our employees, but what do you think of this topic?