Perspective on the New Style of Working in the Digital Age

Dec. 6, 2019 [No.70-2019]

Mr. Yasuo Sando
Senior Chief Researcher
Nippon Steel Research Institute Corporation

Perspective on the New Style of Working in the Digital Age

The manufacturing business is compelled to undertake radical transformation in the face of significant digital technology advancement. This situation is called DX, or "Digital Transformation." This is why such a transformation is called a paradigm shift. As a result, it calls for the harsh transformation of working people as well. Until now, if one had main operation knowledge, such as mechanical or electrical engineering, they could work. Digital literacy is now one more component that is required. This generates skill gaps. This is a growing issue that is found all over the world. A solution for it is to recruit and develop "Π-shaped" personnel. Quick development and recruitment of "Π-shaped" personnel with expertise in both manufacturing and digital technology is the key factor that will decide the competitiveness of the digital age. However, for people who have been engaged in manufacturing for a long time, can they easily say "yes," when they are requested to acquire digital expertise from this point forward?

Change in the Way People Work through the Introduction of Digital Technology

Means of communication are shifting from analog (such as printings and audio communication) to digital (such as smart phones, tablets, and software dashboards). The world of things (things, people, equipment, etc.) will be digitalized. Fast simulation by means of virtual digital models will play a larger role in production preparation to production engineering, production management, process design, and operation instructions. Everything will be connected, from order management processes to development and designing, purchasing, manufacturing, inspection, shipment of products, business management, and maintenance services, in addition to factories both inside and outside a country, subcontracting companies, and users. Until now, workers just focused on the operations that they were in charge of. Now, however, as a result of data that is widely shared, there is a growing need for workers to think and make judgments while constantly overseeing the state of upstream and downstream processes. They cannot proceed in their operations without the knowledge and skills to make use of digital tools. As a result, a great change is occurring even in the way people work.

Desired Human Resources and Human Resource Development

Looking at advanced cases, successful companies have taken steps such as: 1) securing digital technology experts, 2) recruiting for shortages in human resources from the outside, and 3) building "Π-shaped" teams by combining digital experts with manufacturing experts. In the case of development engineers, two engineers with different expertise share one PC, and carry out the same operations together. While learning from each other's languages and skills, they cooperate and carry out operations. This kind of pairing, or learning in pairs ("Π-shaped" learning), serves as a means for filling skill gaps.

"Π-shaped" teams require leaders who can accomplish missions while unifying experts with different specialties on manufacturing and digital technologies. The requirements for those leaders include the following: "to unify a variety of human resources and to function as a hub," "to interpret, understand, and translate both manufacturing and digital technologies," "to try to apply new ideas”, “to make quick decisions”, and “to implement and promote the ideas," "to shift the style of management from company-wide centralized control to a horizontal division of labor," "to draw out each member's full ability," and others. On the other hand, the members of "Π-shaped" teams are required to deepen their understanding of each other's expertise in different areas, mutually exchange their own knowledge, and aim for personal growth while maintaining an intellectual curiosity and willingness to acquire multiple skills.

While there is a trend that a lot of simple and repeated work has been reduced due to the advancement of robotics and automation, it is thought that more and more emphasis will be put on human beings' flexibility, sensibility, vast creativity, and perspectives. These are basic ability that controls competitiveness in the DX era. Designing and developing continual education and training systems that benefit new types of career development must be seriously considered.

Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.