Social dialogue for the future of manufacturing

  • Laura Monti
  • Industry 4.0
  • 1 Comment

By our guest-blogger Francesco Seghezzi, ADAPT Senior Research Fellow

The EU manufacturing output stands for 15% of the overall member states’ GDP and EU has declared that the goal is to increase this level by 20% by the year 2020.
However, since 2008 over 3.4 million jobs have been lost in the metal industry and several studies threaten further losses in the next years. At the same time new production paradigms are growing, especially those guided by new processes of digitization of manufacturing.

The most iconic one is the so-called Industry 4.0 paradigm, a is a new production system resulting from the application of the new Internet of Things and Services to manufacturing. A paradigm born as a German economic policy but quickly spread around Europe and also in countries ad US and China. Industry 4.0 represents a game changer affecting all the activities linked to manufacturing, from planning to processes, from products to work organization and worker’s skills.

While the digital evolution of production represents an opportunity for the EU economy, as it implies the demand for new professional figures and new work schemes, the process will involve several challenges for the EU labor market, including a loss of low and middle qualified jobs and a lack of high-skilled workers. In order to deal with the skill mismatch arising from Industry 4.0, it is necessary to develop actions intended to link educational strategies to industrial and labor market policies, as the German experience well-demonstrates with examples of a dual education system. There is a strong conviction among academics and researchers that the bigger is the transition the more all the actors need to be involved in it. This is the aim of the European project INDUSTRY 4EU (Industry 4.0 for the future of manufacturing in the EU). Funded by DG Employment brings together social partners and institutions from Italy, Germany and Slovenia in an effort to identify concrete actions to cope with challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0. Particularly, INDUSTRY 4EU, that started in January 2015 and whose results will be presented in Brussels in July 2017, is intended to identify good practices and possibilities for employers to successfully support the implementation of Industry 4.0, especially by the means of social dialogue at all levels, from firm to the European Union.

According to the European Commission, one of the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy is “to promote there structuring of sectors in difficulty towards future oriented activities, including through quick redeployment of skills to emerging high growth sectors and markets”, thus fostering the Renaissance of industry in Europe. Even though Industry 4.0 has still not been tackled by a joint action within the framework of the European social dialogue, EU social partners are currently demonstrating an increasing interest in this topic and the European Pillar of Social Rights is facing some of the challenges of this new paradigm in terms of working time, privacy, data security etc. Recen INDUSTRY 4EU wants to be a stepping stone to put Industry 4.0 on the top of the EU social dialogue agenda. The main objective is to improve dialogue between employers’ associations in order to create conditions for the spread of Industry 4.0 in the European countries, thus contributing to reconverting present factories and helping them to be more competitive. To do so, the project started to explore, though a detailed mapping exercise, all the public and private initiatives in the countries involved to find in specific contribution that national employers’ associations and trade unions are giving in fostering technological development and linking educational strategies to industrial and labor market policies, thus supporting the creation of new skills and contributing to growth and employment creation. These first outcomes, together with a literature review and a policy review about Industry 4.0, are intended to serve as a basis to elaborate policies to be implemented unilaterally and/or within the framework of social dialogue in the relevant sector, both at a European and national level. A parallel companies’ survey was done in order to analyze the current awareness of one of the main actors of this transition by the point of view of skills needed, the organization of work and the social dialogue.

The hope is that this project could deeply influence the public debate about digitization of work, not only focusing it on a fight between opposite scenarios, but trying to build a common ground on which govern the transition. Real practices of social dialogue are today not only a consequence of this transition but a precondition that we need to create.