Industry 4.0: from IT slave to work captain

Pessimists anticipate jobs being taken by robots and algorithms. Optimists value the many new innovations and make use of them.

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The world of work is changing rapidly. Pessimists predict that robots will soon be setting the pace. Industrial psychologist Sibylle Bräuer on the fear of becoming a slave to technology and what everyone can do to benefit from the opportunities of digitisation.

Who is talking:

Industrial psychologist Sibylle Bräuer

Industrial psychologist Sibylle Bräuer has worked with management staff as a career adviser for many years, for P4 Career Consultants and von Rundstedt, among others. She is confronted by the changes in the world of work and new requirements for employability in the process.
(Photo: Frank Krems)

Call centres with automated hold messages that are impossible to get past. Logistics computers that set the tempo for employees with regard to what goods are to be collected from which rack: under such circumstances, it is easy to feel powerless as a human.


Sibylle Bräuer:

Very true. There is an influx of new developments, innovations and options for companies and customers at the moment. Voice-controlled assistance and intelligent data collection, data evaluation and digitisation in fact offer great potential for optimisations of all kinds. In order for people not to feel small and incapable among intelligent machines, robots and algorithms, it is important that they experience a feeling of self-efficacy at their place of work.

What exactly does self-efficacy mean?

Sibylle Bräuer:
Self-efficacy is the internal belief that I am able to learn something or carry out a certain task. In this way, I as a person have the feeling and concrete opportunity to have a targeted influence on specific things, e.g. at my place of work.

So self-efficacy is also a core driver for success in the world of work?

Sibylle Bräuer:
Yes, exactly. This conviction varies in strength from person to person and studies have shown that high self-efficacy correlates with career success. If I am convinced of my ability, I bring more self-confidence, courage and active enjoyment in shaping things to my work. Characteristics that are in increasing demand. If machines, robots and artificial intelligence take over many of our tasks, we as people can and should take on other, new tasks.

But does it work that easily? Is expert digital knowledge not also needed?

Sibylle Bräuer:
Today we talk about digital literacy. Someone who is digitally literate can handle and communicate with different end devices such as computers, tablets, smartphones, etc. Higher levels of digital literacy represent the ability to modify programs, or even to write programs themselves. Billions of users are already digitally active in their personal lives.



And in the new working world – what is the situation there?

Sibylle Bräuer:
There, too, are already many impressive examples of how work and tasks are optimised through digital processes. Think about huge machines that record temperature, humidity and lots of other data during harvest in order to calculate and implement the ideal further processing of the harvested products. Medical devices that record data and provide diagnoses in one process. Or carry out complicated operations far more precisely and gently than any surgeon.


Pessimists anticipate jobs being taken by robots and algorithms. Optimists value the many new innovations and make use of them.

Sibylle Bräuer

That means we will increasingly rely on machines, robots and algorithms in future?

Sibylle Bräuer:
We should not rely on them, but rather make active use of them. There are a wide variety of scenarios and expert opinions regarding how quickly and how comprehensively the digital revolution will progress and what the consequences will be for us as people. Anyone who slavishly hangs on to the analogue world may soon find that they can no longer participate in working life. Or social life. People who do not communicate with a smartphone today are accepting that they have greatly restricted social reach.

What should managers be particularly aware of from a psychological point of view in these times?

Sibylle Bräuer:
Even if it seems tempting to hang on to the old and familiar, because no one knows exactly where the huge digital changes are leading – it is extremely important to deal with the new digital challenges. Above all, managers should encourage and help their employees to acquire digital skills. And, of course, inform and educate themselves in this area.

And what if I have had little time and few opportunities to do exactly that up to now?

Sibylle Bräuer:
Then the right time has come. Regardless of the current level of knowledge – the good thing is that you can get involved at any time. The digital world is not sorcery, after all. Even if you don’t understand much about it at the moment, you should not be intimidated by terms such as Big Data or Industry 4.0. Instead, you should recognise that you are already digitally active as a matter of course in your private life. On the Internet, there are lots of opportunities to improve your skills using your own initiative: for example through various e-learning programmes, tutorials or BarCamps. The important thing is not to surrender when conquering this new terrain, and to have faith that you can find out what will allow you to progress.

What knowledge can help me in the working world of tomorrow?

Sibylle Bräuer:
It is less about specific knowledge and far more about the inner readiness to learn new things, conquer digital terrain and, for example, as a first step, to become familiar with and use the great deal of cross-sector and sector-specific information and platforms that are already available online. Willingness to learn is the most important foundation in order to remain capable of being actively involved and to make use of the digital opportunities that are now available.

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