A great deal has been written about the waning popularity of technical professions. It’s high time someone contributed positive, constructive thoughts to the debate! Jeroen Franssen and Robrecht Janssens – experts in talent, labour market and work organisation at Agoria – have plenty of ideas.
“Interaction, interdisciplinary and impact: these are the key words when it comes to shaping tomorrow’s technical roles.” – Jeroen Franssen.
“It’s important not to isolate functions within companies and to evolve from individual to team work.” – Robrecht Janssens.
From digitization to the Internet of Things and robotization, the fourth industrial revolution is transforming our economy. To what extent is this also changing the definition of jobs in the manufacturing industry?
Robrecht: “Our manufacturing industry has two assets for the future. On the one hand, we are among the best in the world as regards the manufacturing of very complex products. And on the other, we make those products in record time. An important consequence of this situation is that companies are increasingly looking for new skills and offer opportunities to all those who want to grow with the company.” (Read more on the subject on page 30)
Jeroen: “As a result, jobs today are constantly evolving. Take, for example, the car mechanic who has become an automotive technician, or the assembly worker who’s now a production manager. There are many more roles to fill than just technician or number-crunching engineer. Employers are looking for all kinds of new profiles: creative people, dreamers, strategic thinkers, commercial talents, people who know how to spot opportunities, etc.”
Autonomy and trust
How can companies create this ideal working environment?
Robrecht: “It’s important not to isolate functions within companies and to evolve from individual to team work. Devise optimal training programmes, organise work rotations, give trust and autonomy, experiment with self-steering teams, link the job content with the company’s vision and strategy: these are some of the methods companies can use to help their employees become multidisciplinary and flexible. This sustainable employability is very beneficial for both parties, in the short and the long term. The longer you invest in people, the more valuable they become.”
Jeroen: “There is no interest in job descriptions that are set in stone anymore. Companies must make the switch to role assignments and sets of duties with multiple components. People dedicate 70% of their time to their main task, 20% to associated tasks, and 10% to something completely different. This way, everyone is versatile and, as a result, a lot of opportunities for innovation emerge.”
Aiming for the three i’s
How can companies, together with the government and education, continue to shape technical ‘roles’ for the future?
Jeroen: “Maximum interaction between young people and the business world is essential, and that should already happen in the first years of secondary education. In addition, internships are often too one-dimensional. It’s better for young people from different fields of study to work together on a practical, interdisciplinary project. In such a context, people with technical, commercial or analytical backgrounds come together and hone their soft skills, such as working together and communicating – just like in the labour market.”
“Finally, it’s important for young people to get to know the industry by showing them the impact of engineering and technology on their day-to-day lives. The significance of data for the GPS function on your smartphone, for example, or the role of automation technology in music production. This does not only apply to young people by the way. Someone who feels the impact of his job is more involved in his work, more agile and will go the extra mile.”
“Offer young people future prospects”
These are the words used by managing director Bruno Radermacher to explain why Jumo Automation, a German player with a site in Eupen, brings the machine industry to the classroom, and vice versa. For that purpose, the expert in industrial sensor and automation technology pulls out all the stops to woo its audience: from interactive courses and job days to customised training programmes and a focus on alternate learning, where young people share their time between formal instruction and practical experience.
“Pupils and students with a background in engineering, sales, electronics, IT, communications and so on discover not only our company but also share each other’s knowledge,” says Bruno. “Some even switch to a different department every 3 weeks. This is how they develop the skills they need in today’s complex work landscape. We do not believe in the idea that you should stick to what you are good at. We need to give our people our trust and the autonomy to take initiative, to learn and grow: that’s what really matters in the machine industry.”