Human Relations 4.0

Towards HR 4.0 in aviation

Project manager Jan Balcke firmly believes that Industry 4.0 will “significantly” change the entire aviation industry – with repercussions not only in terms of technology and organisation, but particularly for its employees. “So it is all the more important that we identify and discuss the challenges and opportunities for employees at an early stage.” The aim of HR 4.0 is to shape future workplaces in aviation, to qualify its employees, and to prepare them for technological change.

Cooperating with partners

Airbus seeks to accomplish all this with partners from research and industry as well as representatives of employers and employees, along the end-to-end aviation supply chain. The project is thus implemented in close cooperation with Prof. Dr. Christoph Igel of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) as well as Airbus’ core partners German National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), FESTO Learning Centre, Hamburg Centre of Aviation Training plus (HCAT+), IG Metall, Nordmetall, and Ruhr University Bochum. “Due to its interdisciplinary, interprofessional, and international approach, HR 4.0 is unique in Germany and in the aviation industry from a scientific and technological point of view. This cooperation between industry, research, and social partners is an unprecedented experiment that will serve as a model for others,” says Christoph.

Industry 4.0 will bring about fundamental changes in the relations between people, organisation, and technology. These changes will be felt most keenly by employees, which is why in times of Industry 4.0, competency models must be reviewed at all corporate levels. Qualification shall be achieved through learning at work. New workplaces must be designed and tested. White-collar and blue-collar work must be reorganised according to the changed overall conditions set by Industry 4.0. The Internet of things, services, and data has provided a global stimulus toward Industry 4.0. The parameters of this transformation are determined by the Airbus corporate strategy, co-determination, and the governance, culture, and values of Airbus.

Industry 4.0 by and for the employees

At the heart of the digital transformation process towards Industry 4.0 are the employees: they are the change agents. Their future tasks are only just taking shape – a first set of potential topics has been identified, the first questions have been phrased. However, many solution approaches are still abstract and not tailored to any specific industry. There is a lack of specific requirements for manufacturing in general and aviation in particular. The overall objectives of the project are to

  • establish a cross-institutional network of internal and external HR & Industry 4.0 experts,
  • set up a think tank for developing HR 4.0 concepts, and
  • establish research and learning factories for testing concepts related to workplace design and employee qualification.

According to Klaus Ahlborn, Chairman of the Central Works Council at Airbus, everyone is talking about Industry 4.0, but “still in very vague terms.” The actual consequences for employees – from aircraft design engineers to mechanics – are not yet known. Klaus expects that requirements will increase, not only in terms of qualification but also with regard to employee availability. “So we have to make sure that our employees’ rights are respected.” To make its priorities clear, the Central Works Council chose “People 4.1” as the title for the 2015 assembly of works council members on Industry 4.0. In fall 2016, a key elements paper was signed by the Board of Management and the Central Works Council. According to Klaus, both sides agree that “no employee with whom we embark on this process must be left by the wayside.” Moreover, it must be ensured that employees also benefit from the expected productivity gains.