In April 2015, the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs published a Green Paper called “Work 4.0, Re-Imagining Work” to formulate and discuss the main questions related to the future of work. In this way, the term Work 4.0 was born with the aim of defining the characteristics that the work of tomorrow will have.
The need of this discussion is the result of a series of technological, social and labour trends that are changing the way individuals understand work, as well as the jobs needed to make companies more efficient and sustainable.
But what does Work 4.0 really mean?
The main technological trend affecting Work 4.0 is so-called Industry 4.0. This term is used to refer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in which digitalisation is the lead actor. That is, the adoption of digital technologies that enable a wide variety of advances such as:
- The management of big data and cloud computing to have both real-time and historical data on any type of internal or external process of companies and organisations, in order to improve their decision-making.
- The connection of machines, devices and people exchanging multiple types of information through the Internet of Things.
- The automation of tasks and processes thanks to artificial intelligence (AI).
- The use of drones for multiple applications such as infrastructure maintenance, fire prevention and precision agriculture.
- 3D printing facilitates the manufacturing of parts in a wide range of industries.
Big data: the explosion of data and how to manage it
Among all the above technologies, big data is worth highlighting as it represents the basis of any digital transformation process. According to the International Data Corporation, the creation of data worldwide since the beginning of the last decade (2010s) has been exponential and the forecast is that the volume of data will continue to grow in this way over the next few years.
There are several reasons behind this explosion of data, such as the lower costs of electronic devices (smartphones or sensors), their 24/7 connectivity, the creation of cloud computing services by major technology companies and the proliferation of social networks, which allow their users to create new content (data) non-stop.
This enormous amount of data generated is a tool with an incalculable added value that allows today’s society (and will allow the future society as well) to obtain innovative solutions that were totally unimaginable until not too many years ago.
However, big data also has its dark side, especially regarding the collection, management and custody of citizens’ personal data, as well as the influence that the analysis of their data can have on them. This has led to the emergence of new disciplines such as cybersecurity, which are key when working with data in the framework of Work 4.0 securely and with the aim of exploiting their full potential in accordance with regulations.
Continuous training and cooperation
The knowledge and experience required for further expansion of Industry 4.0 are wide-ranging. Data science, robotics or even quantum computing are just a few examples of the subjects that are already necessary today in order to understand and be able to work competently in this industry. Technological changes are always accompanied by the need to create new jobs for the development and deployment of new technologies.
This means that both workers who are currently in the labour market and the young ones coming into it will have to be trained in the usage of all the technologies present in Industry 4.0. Thus the definition and creation of the necessary programmes and resources is a crucial issue that Work 4.0 must address to guarantee the continuous and quality training of workers.
This point constitutes what is known as a “wicked problem” which, by definition, has no obvious or simple solution. In fact, the only way to tackle it is through the involvement of various stakeholders who have the capacity and willingness to propose solutions to this situation, such as governments, educational institutions, and companies. Only close collaboration of all of them will make possible the necessary standards for Work 4.0 to become a reality in which no worker is excluded.