The Impact of Industry 4.0 on Education, Work, and Technology

Steinbeis joins partnership on study into developments in the work environment

All the talk in Germany at the moment is of Industry 4.0 – or smart manufacturing, which describes the growing use of digital technology in production and digital connectivity between humans, machines, and objects, all made possible thanks to cyber-physical systems. The door is opening to entirely new scenarios that will affect the world overall and the world in which we work. To research the impact this will have on workers, the Karlsruhe University of Education and Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences are currently conducting a study with the support of the Steinbeis Transfer Center SITIS (Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems) and rst IT Consulting GmbH.

Previous research has identified a number of key challenges that firms will have to face in the future if they want to remain competitive against the backdrop of Industry 4.0 developments. This will involve technological renewal, innovation, changing production hierarchies, networked value chains, and novel business models. But what impact will sweeping change have on the people working for these companies?

The Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems, also known as SITIS, is a Steinbeis Transfer Center based at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. Through scores of industry consulting assignments and many projects conducted through its SITIS Academy, SITIS has gained detailed insights into the work environment of people working at companies in the fields of tool-making, metal construction, medicine, and the aerospace industry. These experiences overlap closely with the findings of different studies and can be summarized in the following key points (see separate box for sources):

  • The utilization level of new technology stands at between 40% and 60%
  • Many workers have not yet arrived in the world of Industry 2.0
  • There is less and less time for staff training/CPD
  • People often learn what they already know when they receive training and there’s a tendency in business to emphasize learning “on the job” (learning by doing), typically with vague goals or structures

If companies want to meet the challenges of Industry 4.0, time is of the essence. They have to manage what they are doing right now while also casting an eye toward future activities. This is made worse by two further factors. Firstly, there is a skills shortage, which is likely to worsen due to demographic developments – and this will increase the onus on the smaller numbers of workers. Secondly, people will be expected to take on new tasks and they will still have to acquire the right skills to do this.

People are adaptable, capable of learning, and effective – assuming the right conditions are in place to motivate them and allow them to enjoy their work. Recent studies indicate that one in two workers believe they are not able to make full use of their skills at the workplace. Under a quarter of workers say that they receive recognition for their commitment and performance. If companies want to master future challenges with their workers, they will need to have everyone fully on board. But this is only possible if they not only take a variety of factors into account, such as age, people’s expectations regarding role models, qualification levels, and hierarchies, but also emotional factors and issues relating to how people manage their work.

To research the relationships between all these issues, the consortium (Karlsruhe University of Education, Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, the Steinbeis Transfer Center SITIS, and rst IT Consulting) has been working on a study entitled Education – Work – Technology. The study is based on a technique developed by Steinbeis and rst which allows firms to gain feedback from workers on the emphasis of tasks during any current situation – e.g., with respect to Industry 4.0.

Evaluating data from the study should make it possible to explain:

  • the key priorities of a company and how these are seen by its workers
  • connections with age patterns, known problems, and the affective impact of such aspects
  • goals, values, and how these values can be targeted and justified, given any problems raised by workers

Companies are also provided with a timeline analysis showing the development of goals and values from the viewpoint of staff, plus different problems in the value chain. Drawing on the results of the study allows firms to draft long-term action plans. Actively involving workers in the survey of key priorities also makes it possible for them to contribute directly to solving problems considered important to the survival of the company.


Manufacturing enterprises are entitled to participate in the study for free for a period of six
months. Depending on resource availability, queries can be submitted until the end of December

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rüdiger Haas, PD Dr. phil. habil. Maja Jeretin-Kopf
Steinbeis Transfer Center Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems SITIS (Karlsruhe)

Rolf Steinmann
rst IT-Unternehmensberatung GmbH (Renningen)

Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Christian Wiesmüller
Karlsruhe University of Education

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