Interview with Marco Wagner and Jan-Marcus Hinz

All set and ready to go to human relations 4.0

Airbus has launched an interactive, web-based knowledge platform on HR 4.0. What is behind this platform and who can benefit from it? These questions are best answered by Marco Wagner, Senior Vice President Human Resources and Member of the Board of Management of Airbus in Germany, and Jan-Marcus Hinz, Chairman of the Central Works Council of Airbus in Germany.

Marco Wagner: We initiated the Educational Magazine, EduMag for short, with the aim of providing detailed information about HR 4.0 and setting up a digital platform for an extensive exchange of knowledge and experience. The platform has been designed for Airbus employees as well as external stakeholders who actively support our initiative as partners or are interested in following the digital transformation process of a large corporation.

Jan-Marcus Hinz: In addition, the platform shows that the works council plays an active role at Airbus in shaping this subject of relevance for the future. After all, co-determination is a German success story.

How come that the company parties are cooperating so closely on HR 4.0?

MW: Well, we are all in the same boat and I think it would be unwise to not cooperate on the changes that Industry 4.0, the internet of things, and the smart service world will bring. Because these topics and questions are basically identical for both sides: What will our future work structures look like? Which methods and smart devices will we use to qualify our employees for the future? And, last but not least, how can we leverage the individual skills and talents of our employees? Maybe by using artificial intelligence?

JMH: Within the central works council, we realised early on how important Industry 4.0 is and discussed its impact on the workforce during the assembly of works council members as early as 2015. Back then, we defined a set of questions concerning the future and underlined our interest in actively contributing to their answers. This message has been understood by the employer. In the end, that will also help secure jobs in Germany.

How will education, training, and learning change in an increasingly digitalised living and working environment?

MW: It sounds trivial, but it is true: just-in-case learning is not efficient. Likewise, the teacher-centred learning approach that is still commonly used today is neither tailored to individual needs nor designed for specific target groups. Based on new media and learning technologies such as apps, e-learning, gamification, and wearables, we will establish a new culture of learning. This also means that the trainer’s role will shift to that of a learning coach – as will the role of future learners, who will be able to compile specific learning catalogues tailored to their individual skills and needs.

JMH: Another burning question in this regard is how people will be able to handle the new requirements and roles. Let’s take “self-directed learning”, for example. Many will regard this as a mixed blessing. As Marco Wagner described, learning will become even more modular. We need to prepare for this.

Do we need a new digital learning culture?

MW: Digital transformation is already underway and will profoundly change our culture of learning. PULSE, our Airbus-internal digitalisation campaign, is a symbol of this digital transformation process. Unfortunately, the consultation and coordination processes are too slow.

JMH: I try to avoid using the term “cultural change”, because it is used all too frequently. There is no doubt that technological progress is unstoppable. As far as digitalisation is concerned, we are already in the middle of it, and it is definitely going to have an impact on learning. A new learning culture cannot really be planned. These are evolutionary processes.

What does this mean for Airbus as a company providing vocational training?

MW: I consider our training organisation as a motor and a source of rejuvenation for the company. Our youngest employees, now called “Generation Z”, come to us with clear expectations. They represent the “digital natives” – the generation that grew up with the internet and with mobile devices. They want to get involved in an agile manner, engage in interactive and cooperative learning, and make an individual contribution that creates value. For that, they need a (digital) setting which our current Airbus world does not fully provide yet. So to get things started, we will launch the “Klasse4.0” (Class4.0) vocational training pilot in Hamburg this year, which focuses on modular, on-demand learning, the introduction of a digital record book, and the use of virtual reality and augmented reality for training and learning, amongst other things.

JMH: There is indeed a gap between the digital world that many young people live in and the reality at schools, universities, and in companies, where digital transformation often takes much longer. However, we need to make a clear distinction between the use of apps as objects of daily life on the one hand and, on the other hand, a real understanding of their functions and potential impacts. Being well-versed in using digital technologies is one thing, but asking critical questions about it is another. Training should address that, too.

What about further training measures for employees?

MW: This is where the real challenge for the company lies. We have to make sure that our means of training for adaptation are smart and attractive, so as to motivate and inspire even those employees who already have a large part of their working lives behind them but nevertheless appreciate the importance and opportunities that new qualification contents and methods hold for them personally. I am very optimistic that we will succeed together!

JMH: I see this as a challenge, too. And even if we cannot inspire all employees, we should focus on giving everyone, if possible, a chance to adapt to new requirements.

Which competences will no longer be needed in the future? Which ones should an industrial company continue to rely on?

MW: Basically, all competences will be needed – however, the question is how relevant the individual activities will be in an industrial company undergoing digital transformation. In my opinion, the skills profile of an aircraft electronics technician, for example, will shift to focus increasingly on the following four areas: systemic thinking, sensor/actuator systems, media literacy, and not least network and connection technologies (IP addressing).

JMH: We absolutely cannot afford to go without the competences that already exist in our company today. Nevertheless, the use of technology will cause some jobs to become less and some to become more complex. This is why training contents must be adapted to be more practice-oriented. A modern industrial company relies on its existing workforce and qualifies its employees according to its needs. This is also what demographic change requires us to do. A management that does not rely on qualified employees acts negligently.

Nobody knows where the HR 4.0 journey will take us. What are the most important preparations required at Airbus today?

MW: Those we have already made: getting started and getting things done! Nobody can predict for sure what digital transformation will bring and how it will impact the company and its individual employees. We have to take the questions concerning the future of work and workplaces seriously and tackle them together, understanding that competitiveness, increased efficiency, and job security are part of a larger whole. EduMag provides an interesting and important insight into a topic that is novel to most of us: HR 4.0!

JMH: The writer and pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” That may sound somewhat romantic. But what it means is that we have to motivate people and make sure nobody is left by the wayside. To achieve that, our employees must have their say in the process – this is the key to our success. Sources of information such as this website will help us along the way.