The impact of digitalization on HR processes. Applying research in working contexts.

Anne-Lise Brown
Anne-Lise Brown ↓ citește în 4 minute

Men and robots have been in close collaboration for decades now. Even more in the automotive industry, this relationship has grown and beautifully developed over the years into what we now know and recognize as a tight overlap between human creativity and technological advancement.

Digital transformation in the production industry, also known as Industry 4.0, is barely a case of pure technological processes, but more so a tight connection between technology and organizational aspects surrounding the human factor.

What new technologies are shaping the automotive industry?

What are the challenges of HR in the face of digitalization?

What is the role of HR in adopting digital manufacturing technologies, at different implementation stages?

What are the skills and competencies different organizational levels need?

These are all relevant questions for the tech recruitment industry as a whole, and particularly for us at Human Direct, where our ongoing projects surround innovation, digitalization, and robotization.

Earlier this year we had the pleasure of participating at the 2024 EFIKOT conference in Cluj-Napoca where we found out the answers to these questions during a presentation based on recent research conducted by Ottó Csíki, PhD: Industry 4.0: Cooperation between man and machine in the age of digitalization. From a practical standpoint, the research aims to provide managers responsible for production digitalization with an instrument to identify the most important activities, abilities, and competencies required to implement new technologies.

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We were impressed with Otto’s passion for research and his ability to highlight the relevancy of complex concepts for organizations to improve their efficacy in daily working situations, and we wanted to share a summary of his insightful work. Nonetheless, we encourage you to reach out to him if you are interested in diving even deeper into the topic and experiencing his excitement for science and innovation firsthand.

Without further ado…

The nine pillars of technological advancement illustrated below are shaping the automotive industry as we know it and are intertwined with the role of employees at different organizational levels.

Ultimately, technology should relieve workers from monotonous tasks, make processes more time- and cost-effective, and provide more creative freedom for humans.

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Previous research on the impact of I4.0 overlooked the intertwined dynamics between technology implementation, the human resources involved, the different stages of implementation, and the necessary skills and competencies for such a process.

Otto’s research identifies three organizational levels: shop-floor employees, development experts, and managers. The technologies above have a different effect on the three levels and also during the three implementation phases: before, during, and after implementation.

One of the biggest gaps in the implementation of I4.0 so far is the lack of focus on the development experts, who are the link between the need for digitalization as identified by managers and the hands-on usage of new technologies by shop-floor employees. Their expertise is crucial for the successful implementation of I4.0, and they represent the ambassadors of change (Demeter et al., 2020).

Another faulted aspect is the lack of implication of shop-floor employees in the pre-implementation and implementation stages. Having them face the post-implementation stage upfront can create resistance to change, disconnection from their new roles, and a lack of understanding of how technology aims to facilitate their work, rather than to replace them.

Similarly, we could ask what is the role of managers post-implementation. Do their responsibilities stop at identifying the need for digitalization and planning its implementation?

Analyzing the process in place at 5 organizations with over 50 employees each, the research identified 42 different skills and competencies required for successfully implementing I4.0 (figure 1), which can be further narrowed down into 9 categories (figure 2). As illustrated below, not all skills are equally relevant for all three organizational levels. However, the research found that development experts need the most diverse set of competencies that encapsulates skills from all 9 categories.

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What we loved about this research is its practicality. The study offers a holistic structure of the competencies and actions needed to implement I4.0. Such an approach is necessary to understand how different organizational levels need to collaborate for a successful outcome. For example, the role of development experts doesn’t end with implementation but continues further with failure prevention, data management, and sharing their knowledge with workers from different levels.

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One of the main findings of the research is that from all identified competencies, innovation and openness are key for each organizational level. This is why, managers should focus on idea-generating activities designed for all employees. Fostering innovation relies on having a system that supports creative ideas, manages the influx of these ideas, and offers incentives for initiative, especially in the pre-implementation stage.

Another key idea is the importance of properly assessing and choosing development experts, which are often overlooked, but should in fact be placed at the center of I4.0 implementation.

Nonetheless, the openness of shop floor employees to implementing new technology can be assessed as soon as the idea of change arises and use their practical expertise to generate ideas and inputs regarding the areas that need innovation most.

In the words of the author, “If you want innovation, create a system that maintains it and give it time”. Innovation is not an overnight event, but an ongoing process that takes building knowledge, fostering collaboration, creating links between the development and production areas, building competencies, retraining, and involving the users to identify the market need. It might be challenging and bumpy at times, but growth will certainly follow.

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