Editor’s note: Siemens recently hosted research scientists, university deans and professors, futurists, workforce experts and senior leadership to its Corporate Technology R&D Labs in Princeton, NJ to immerse themselves in the digital revolution. They didn’t put on virtual reality goggles or eat spinach grown by a robot farmer to simply explore cutting-edge technologies, but to experience the necessity of developing the human intelligence to unlock the full potential of Siemens technology. This reflection is part one of a three-part series about the future of jobs – Live from the Lab.
Humans are integral to the future of work, but the way we work is also evolving It’s essential to invest in people and in workforce development programs As technology masters more human tasks, humans need to master adaptability.
As the CEO of a company that employs 50,000 workers in the U.S. alone, people often ask me: How will the digital transformation affect our workforce? Are we facing a future where robots take over the world?
I don’t believe that at all. I believe the digital transformation is elevating the role of the human.
Siemens today is both a hardware and a software company. We have 60 U.S. manufacturing, digital and R&D sites that enable us to manufacture and design real things, and to make those things smarter using data and software. Our workers are integral to what we do, and will continue to be, which is evident in our ongoing efforts to train and recruit a digital workforce – from machinists who know how to program automation systems, to data experts and software engineers.
That’s not to say jobs won’t change. As Futurist Thomas Frey said about jobs over the next five to 10 years – “we’re not automating out jobs; we’re automating tasks out of existence.” Our work is evolving. Whether you’re a manufacturing worker, a software programmer or a corporate executive, the jobs themselves won’t go away – but the tools we use, the knowledge we draw upon, and the way we work together in teams will be vastly different.
As we’re celebrating Manufacturing Month, let’s think about a machinist. In the past, machinists had to learn how to use a manual machine. Yet in the digital world, a machinist not only has to master manual controls; they need to know how to program machines with a computer. This is just one example of how manufacturing professionals today need to draw on theoretical classroom training in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) in addition to what they learn on the job.
Then there are apparent technology challenges that are really people challenges, like artificial intelligence. AI represents a phenomenal opportunity to create new business value and pursue leap frog innovation. Yet it’s too often overlooked that it still takes humans to unlock AI. It’s not about replacing human ability, then. AI, fundamentally, is a call to action to develop human intelligence.
That’s why we need to increasingly invest in people and in the workforce development programs we need today and in the future. Institutions from high school STEM classrooms to university laboratories are developing curriculum or tackling real-world challenges through programs that teach both technical and soft skills.
Other skills, though, are learned on the job, be it through apprenticeships, internships, coding bootcamps, shadowing opportunities, or continuing education. Furthermore, organizations like the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work initiative are exploring ways to offer tax credits for life-long learning workforce programs and ways to incentivize collaboration and innovation among policy, industry and academia.
This collective action is what it takes to develop the type of digital talent not just that Siemens needs, but that our country needs.
Reflecting on my own experience, I was a math student as an undergrad. My first employer, IBM, recruited me and taught me how to program software. And I think this is an approach that employers need to revisit: don’t wait for talent to come to you; cultivate it and develop it yourself.
That’s why Siemens invests $50 million annually in continuing education for our U.S. employees, and why we’ve expanded our advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program combining on-the-job training and postsecondary STEM education to nine states. It’s why we enable college engineering students developing software skills to work with us for college credit.
Change needs to happen on an individual level too. As technology masters more human tasks, humans need to master adaptability. Qualities like curiosity and agility are now more important than ingrained knowledge of technology or of how to do a specific job. What people are willing to learn now counts as much as what they’ve already learned or what they’ve already done in the workplace. That, too, is another way that the digital transformation is elevating – not diminishing – the role of the human in the 21st century workforce.