Technology is drastically reshaping the workforce — here's what 3 leaders think are the biggest challenges and opportunities

  • New technologies are dramatically reshaping businesses.
  • A panel at Business Insider's Global Trends Festival brought together three leaders whose industries are experiencing disruption to comment on the changes.
  • The speakers discussed the need for employee training and reskilling, the impact of COVID-19 on business, and the opportunities and challenges that come with workplaces becoming more digitized. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

No matter the industry a worker or company belongs to, it's probably experiencing disruption right now. 

Technologies like 5G, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and the general digitization of formerly analog tools and processes are introducing rapid changes to the workforce.

Three panelists — Özgür Burak Akkol, Chairman of the Board, MESS; Gisbert Rühl, CEO of Klöckner & Co., and Hiltrud Werner, Board Member of Volkswagen  — joined Business Insider's Global Trends Festival this week for a session called "Pushing the boundaries of industry 4.0." 

Responding to disruption was a major topic for all three, who agreed that their businesses would look very different in the next five to ten years.

"We believe at the moment that transformation of the auto industry can be equated with the invention of printing or industrialization," Werner said.

Akkol, who represents the Turkish employer's association of the metals industry, said that a benefit of "industry 4.0" is the way automation will improve speed and productivity. At the same time, companies will need to understand how to manage the shift, especially when it comes to reskilling existing workers.

"Even a traditional company like Klöckner will change," Rühl said. "Five years ago we started a digital academy so every worker can do digital courses during working hours and increase their digital IQ." 

The fact that the Volkswagen group has around 670,000 employees makes it difficult for the company to turn a blind eye to the reskilling issue.

"We see our responsibility clearly in making that change and that transformation and also that training of employees part of our job," Werner said.

While reskilling sounds great in theory, it comes with challenges.

"We cannot train a steel sales guy to an AI software engineer," Rühl said. "It also means that we need new employees and that we're reducing the staff of employees who don't have this knowledge."

In addition to employee reskilling, the panelists also view platforms as a promising business model to manage the current moment and prepare their companies for the future.

MESS has created MEXT, a platform for providing digital transformation training to companies and workers, which they aim to see number 250,000 in the next few years, and Klöckner will establish an open industry platform where multiple companies could sell products.

Platforms are "the basis for exponential growth going forward," Rühl said.

The impact of COVID-19

Akkol said that the pandemic has affected the metals industry dramatically.

"In the first months of the pandemic we had a lockdown in our plants and had to stop production," he said. "Our members make up 40% of Turkish exports, so lockdown meant a lot."

Rühl said the pandemic is a threat on the one side, but it's also a huge opportunity.

"We accelerated our digital efforts and are already making 42% of our sales through digital channels," Rühl said.

As for when the pandemic ends, there is a lot to look forward to, the panelists agreed.

"Jobs will have more and more dual skillsets — not just IT experts on one side and business unit experts on the other," Werner said. "It means that we might all speak the same language one day."

 

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