Fourth Industrial Revolution wasn’t created in a factory.

The Optimistic Outlook Part 1: Why an aging workforce is an advantage in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By: Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

The Fourth Industrial Revolution wasn’t created in a factory.

 

It stands apart from its predecessors in that it wasn’t even specifically designed for the industrial world – be it transportation, power or manufacturing.

 

The key elements of this Fourth Industrial Revolution – software, data and boundless connectivity – were actually pushed forward in the computing and tech sectors. They first emerged in the consumer world through the introduction of smartphones.

 

The question I ask a lot is: Why has the Fourth Industrial Revolution taken longer to reach industry and infrastructure?

 

I now believe there are three key areas we need to focus on in order to unlock the potential of digital transformation to improve everything from how we manufacture to how we commute to work or how we use energy.

As software and data provide us with new capabilities, there’s real value in bringing people together who might think differently and creatively about these new tools and what they can do.

1. Accessibility: Technology companies must strive to make data created by software as accessible to industries and cities as it for any consumer with a smartphone. We’re passionate about developing the right user-friendly tools, from streamlined software stacks to our Mendix platform that can enable anyone to do software programming, even without learning to code. Or new edge computing capabilities combined with our operating system for the Internet of Things, MindSphere, which can handle complex data analytics from IoT-connected devices to deliver powerful information to decision-makers.

 

2. Trust: Think how easily we accept terms and conditions for fitness or music apps. For our customers, it’s a lot different. They need to have full transparency into how we use data and to feel fully confident that we know how to protect it. We’re now helping customers embrace the concept of security in the cloud and to use monitoring tools powered by machine learning. That’s in addition to working with a global alliance called the Charter of Trust to set standards and best practices for securing critical infrastructure in the digital age

 

3. Human talent: The technology we need is ready to be deployed. What we really need to focus on now – maybe more than anything else – are the people and teams who will use it.

 

This latter point is what I wanted to dig into a bit at the outset of this new series I’m kicking off called The Optimistic Outlook.

 

This latter point is what I wanted to dig into a bit at the outset of this new series I’m kicking off called The Optimistic Outlook.

 

Earlier this summer I reacted to New York Times commentary focused on America’s aging workforce. We hear too often that an aging workforce is a disadvantage to the U.S. economy.

 

Does it have to be? My optimistic outlook is that this is a time to focus on collaboration and knowledge transfer. I’m focusing on the synergies that happen when people of different ages and backgrounds work together, as I believe these synergies are exactly what organizations pursuing digital transformation need.

 

That’s in part because I’ve seen how multigenerational teams at Siemens have helped drive our innovation agenda rather than dampen it and because the parameters of a career over a lifetime are being redrawn. Careers are now lasting 30, 40 and 50 years or more.

 

I’ve talked to longstanding employees – some with two, three or four decades of experience – who had been put into teams with digital natives on the factory floor. They told me how the experience had inspired them to advance their own digital skills, learning and researching in their own time. They also shared their time-tested lessons and knowledge as the team worked to apply technology toward a better way of getting the job done.

 

So I’m less concerned about generational divides and the risk of productivity loss than I am about the opportunities we might miss. The questions I’m asking are: How do we empower people at every stage of their careers? And are we fully utilizing the technological tools now available to help us? 

 

As software and data provide us with new capabilities, there’s real value in bringing people together who might think differently and creatively about these new tools and what they can do. It’s how we’ll push boundaries, but it’s also how we’ll create spaces for people to learn and grow – even reinvent their careers or forge a new career path that’s yet to be imagined.

 

Collaboration is critical to the culture we’re encouraging at Siemens during this time of accelerating change. It reflects our belief that everyone can have a role in shaping our future and a commitment to not leaving anybody behind. The $50 million we invest annually in continuing education is about putting our employees in the driver’s seat of their careers, whether they’re just starting out or have been with us for a while.

 

That’s why we’re looking at demographic shifts with anticipation rather than apprehension. It’s why we’re challenging ourselves to pair human knowledge and experience with the technology that can expand what’s humanly possible.

 

We see this as a spark igniting innovation and positive change even as the workforce ages.