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People take center stage, even in a digitalized world

Digitization, Internet of things, industry 4.0 – the buzzwords are everywhere, especially at ACHEMA 2018. Industry doesn’t work without digital technologies, but “where are the people in this?” This was the title of the 6th perspectives event, organized by infraserv Höchst on June 13.

The philosopher and publicist Richard David Precht prefers the term „second machine age“ over industry 4.0. In the first industrial revolution or first machine age, machines complemented people, made life easier for them and created lots of new jobs. In the second machine age, algorithms now replace human labour. Precht postulates that this will cause a radical change in society. If millions of jobs vanish, a basic income is inevitable. Otherwise, a political firestorm, caused by unemployed and frustrated people, would follow. A basic income is contrary to our understanding of a meritocracy, but it would increase motivation to work.

To make people cope with these societal changes, self-empowerment is a prerequisite and the foundation for this needs to be laid at school. Precht demands an educational system that encourages intrinsic motivation and focuses on individual talents. The entrepreneur Michael Heraeus is dissatisified with the educational system, too; his dissatisfaction manifests constructively in the Heraeus foundation for education, promoting the continuing education of teachers since 1965. He says “if the government doesn’t do something, we have to do it ourselves”. But even his do-it-yourself-mentality has its limits. He wonders how digitization should work, if there isn’t even high-speed internet in remote areas of Germany.

Francesco Grioli, industry union for mining, chemistry, energy, holds the dual training system in high regard. He is convinced that this typically German unique selling point helps to persist in the age of digitization – “German industry needs to be better much in the same way as others are cheaper” he says. Furthermore, he would prefer a ministry of digitization over the newly installed Germany ministry of community.

Oliver Croenenberg (Sanofi), Sjef Arets (DSM) and Henrik Hahn (Evonik) presented how their companies deal with digitization. All of the companies have put the topic on the agenda and there is a lot of discussing and strategizing, but only DSM has something tangible: the company has realized that it’s not the executives who have the know-how, but the employees. Consequently, the pyramid was flipped: not only top-managers are being coached, but the emphasis is put on promoting the talents of every individual.