Job Fiction

Brexit or No Brexit? Rate increases or negative yields over the long-term? The volatility in crude oil prices? If you have become accustomed to being lulled to sleep by the tumultuous background noise of day-to-day market activity, it might be useful take a step back to observe in silence. In so doing, you will witness the emergence of market disruptions.

For example, it is undeniable that the digitalisation of services is today in full swing and profoundly transforming large swathes of our daily life. Indeed, the disconcerting ease and speed with which the digital economy is unfolding before our eyes makes us sometimes forget the phenomenon of robotisation, its corollary applied to the manufacture of goods.

However, here as well however a revolution is underway. China, well-known for its efficiency and speed in execution, has adopted a “Made in China 2025” growth plan built around “innovation driven manufacturing emphasizing quality over quantity”. Under this plan, industrial excellence is targeted by boosting investments in four areas: information technology, aerospace, robotics and new technologies. Nearly one year later day for day, the takeover bid of the Chinese conglomerate, MIDEA GROUP for the German group KUKA, one of the world leaders in robotics manufacturing provides a concrete illustration.

Elsewhere in the world, other signals confirm the breadth of the underlying movement: FOXCONN, the Taiwanese iPhone maker, has replaced 60,000 people by a robotic workforce named “Foxbots” at one of its Chinese plants while ADIDAS announced that it was relocating the manufacture of its footwear in Germany to a facility operated largely by robots.

Closer to home, this same strategic priority has been adopted by our German neighbours. And they have also given it their own name, “Industry 4.0” referring to the German initiative designed to set the stage for advancing from age of mass production/consumption to a new industrial era of mass customization. In this quest for the smart factory, predictive maintenance or optimization made possible by connected robotics and artificial intelligence, the level of investments will take off across the globe while the war of intelligence has been being waged for a long time already.

Things have been moving so fast that some are now predicting that 50% of all jobs – including intellectual activities and services – may be at risk within the next 15 years. A trend driven by a shortage in available labour: for example, German manufacturers are concerned by the departure of 50% of production engineers who will be retiring over the next 10 years. The robotics sector is for that reason naturally in a phase of strong expansion in countries characterized by tight labour markets.

Will all sectors be impacted? Many tests(1) currently offer a more or less precise view of the situation. However, rather than engage in scaremongering regarding the long-term prospects for employment, let us remain optimistic and imagine a beneficial power that might emerge from this trend allowing people to achieve well-being through work. The debate on this issue is fundamental as a critical issue for the future of our societies. It will have to be profound and rapid but our Cartesian minds are capable of competing on an equal footing with Confucius wisdom

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