It’s up to us to shape the future of jobs

Thursday, June 21, 2018 2:38 pm EDT


Janina Kugel, Siemens Chief Human Resources Officer

Pervasive Internet connectivity has dramatically changed our world and made smartphones and digital applications an integral part of our daily lives. Now, the Internet of Things is arriving in the industrial and infrastructure sectors, changing how we work and sparking fears that these advances will also eliminate jobs.

Many envision a coming dystopia for humankind with robots taking over our jobs – and even the whole world! We at Siemens know that automation technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics – will change jobs but not destroy them all. Many workers will need to reinvent themselves, regardless of the types of jobs that they have today. Still, by definition, artificial intelligence is about using technology to increase human capability, generating significant benefits for users, businesses and economies that fuel productivity gains and economic growth.

If the algorithms are coded well – that is, in a way that doesn’t amplify or reflect human bias – AI can support our jobs. It’s our ethical responsibility to ensure that algorithms and data are bias-free. AI will only serve human empowerment if we solve this challenge.

I discussed this topic this week at the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) in San Francisco, where I joined German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier along with high-level experts from the academic community and from labor unions.

In the whole discussion on the future of work, I find it remarkable that, over the past 20+ years, most OECD countries have actually been spending less on worker training and on labor markets than in the past. And that development is worrisome given the changes that are happening.

Reversing this trend toward declining investments in training is the crucial task at hand. Governments and companies need to make workforce development a more urgent priority.

In general, I would suggest that we focus on these four areas:

  • Fostering an environment within the business community that embraces new ways of thinking about key goals such as delighting customers and serving society. This goes far beyond the technology itself and includes developing new business models and sharpening our skills in new forms of collaboration.
  • Instilling a mindset of continuous learning. Even the changes that are just emerging today will be “old hat” in a few years. The future of work is closely linked to the future of learning. Here, we should take full advantage of the digital transformation of education in order to help our workforce keep up with the rapid pace of change. Technological advances mean that employees need to know more, but the same progress also makes it easier to gain the required knowledge.
  • Informing people of all ages, but especially young people, that they need to make their career choices based on future needs rather than on their current understanding of the familiar job profiles of the past. Not all of the upcoming changes are clear today, but it seems that robots and AI will take on repetitive tasks that occur frequently in manufacturing and administration. People need to know that radical disruption is coming, and we can help them prepare.
  • Joining forces to begin preparing measures for cushioning the impact of later stages of the digital transformation that are likely to bring uncomfortable change to a large portion of the workforce. Siemens is establishing a Future Fund to help manage structural change, but we’d like to see additional collective action on a broad level across society. This is the responsibility of employers and individuals, but also of governments.

At Siemens, continuing education is a key part of our company culture: that’s why we already invest more than €500 million (~$580 million) a year in the training, reskilling and upskilling of our employees worldwide. To train our U.S. workforce, we’re investing $50 million annually in the continuing education of our employees, and we’re increasingly introducing the German model of apprenticeships in our U.S. operations. Over the last few years, we’ve expanded our U.S. apprenticeship program to a total of nine states, we’ve granted an additional $3 billion worth of industrial software to academic and training institutions, and we’ve hired 250 additional U.S. military veterans.

As a company, we see these investments as a business requirement, and we consider making investments in human beings part of our societal responsibility. It’s up to all of us to shape the digital transformation in a way that serves human interests. After all, ultimately, the idea behind the digital transformation is to make the world a better place for people, not for technologies!





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