4.0 technologies implementation have an impact on structure, job profiles and competences: in which way?

Last week, we presented a research that we have conducted about the relationships between introducing new technologies and the impact these have on the companies, especially from an organisational point of view. The last article defined some sub-section for the organisational aspects: structure, jobs, and competences. This week we would like to report the results that we obtained from this research. During the analysis, we interviewed 16 companies in the North of Italy with different dimensions (e.g., some were SME, others were big companies).

Technology and structure

This research demonstrates that there is a relationship between technology adoption and the evolution of organisational structures. In particular, the companies were explicitly asked to discuss the changes they experienced in their organisational structures alongside the introduction of I4.0 technologies. Although a new structure was never mentioned by the interviewees as the main novelty, it was usually presented as a natural consequence of adapting to the new machines, tasks and working environment. This evidences that, in the context of the analysed SMEs, organisational change tends to lag behind technology introduction.

The only cases in which the organisational structure change anticipated the new technology adoption were cases in which the change was stimulated by introducing lean culture. Other companies are planning a reorganisation towards leaner organisational structures. The hierarchical levels reduction is being experienced by two different companies that have already reacted to the advent of I4.0. Generally, all interviewed companies experienced a decrease in hierarchical levels and a widening of the span of control alongside the introduction of I4.0 technologies. An ideal strategy for implementing important technological innovations should consider organisational aspects. Organisational structure, hierarchical levels, and bureaucracy level inside a firm are not detached from production processes and technological advancements. It is fundamental for firms to introduce changes at the macro-organisational level to avoid problems and bottleneck situations with communication and bureaucracy difficulties.

Whether already in place or planned in the sample companies, organisational changes display a tendency to adapt to technological changes by introducing organisational structures characterised by a wider span of control and a reduced number of hierarchical levels. This is reflected in the simultaneous increase in the adoption of matrix structures across most of the sampled SMEs, mainly to help coordination and adaptation. To limit the potential negative effects of similar organisational structures (e.g. resource inefficiency, overlapping of roles), introducing lean principles allows companies to better solve the trade-off between organisational efficiency and effectiveness.

Technology and jobs

The increasing need for polyvalence and specialisation has brought all the interviewed companies to define and start training new job profiles and roles. Mainly, it is possible to envisage a new type of job profile, which all the present case studies have already begun to design.

The emergence of new job profiles is further confirmed by the extensive adoption of both internal and external training to make up for skills shortages in the job market in all the sample companies. These new job profiles are characterised by a moderate horizontal specialisation level and a higher grade of autonomy than the operative job profiles. Therefore, we have defined them as “autonomous operative job profiles”. Moreover, from the studied cases, these job profiles emerged as requiring deep technical competences. Still, they should be sustained with additional methodological, personal and interpersonal competences. Therefore, the evidence from the case studies suggests that SMEs are evolving towards the skills upgrade scenario, characterised by employees developing new roles as decision-makers and coordinators.

Figure 1 shows the positioning of the autonomous operative job profiles according to the vertical (i.e. amount of control over the task performed) and horizontal (i.e. the number of different tasks performed) specialisation. Figure 1 also characterises these job profiles in terms of competences. The newly identified job profile follows the results regarding the higher independence and proactivity of workers, especially at the lowest level of the organisational chart.

Figure 1 – Positioning of autonomous job profiles in terms of vertical and horizontal specialization

Technologies and competences

Finally, a relationship emerges between the technologies’ level of adoption and the competences required, thus evidencing the direct relationship between technology implementation and competence development. All the interviewed companies, regardless of their technology adoption levels, manifested a need for technical competences as an immediate impact of new technology implementation. Companies focus more on the technological aspect without fully considering the organisational and human issues in the short term. This is supported by the empirical evidence provided here. All the sampled companies are either developing or have already created the technical competences they need. However, firms cannot rely only on technical competences. In fact, in the medium to long term, firms should pay attention also to methodological, personal and interpersonal competences to increase business value (Figure 2). These competences require a higher effort in the long term, as the changes in organisation and people’s behaviours require more time to be effective. This is confirmed by the fact that all the sampled companies have at least started requiring “soft” competences. Still, only a few of them have recognised the importance of these skills either by acquiring them or starting training programmes. These companies are also more advanced in their levels of technology adoption. Finally, we could say that with the increasing adoption of I4.0 technologies, companies will first experience the need to develop technical competences. In contrast, the need to develop methodological, personal and interpersonal competences will arise in more advanced stages.

Figure 2 – Relationship between the level of technologies adoption and the types of competences needs with respect to value creation

Suppose you are interested in learning more about the research we have presented, including the more theoretical and methodological aspects that we have not covered in Young SCholars. In that case, you can do so by reading the paper we have published on the subject. We will continue to address the impact of 4.0 technologies on operations, task execution, and management in the future, focusing on logistics and supply chain, so stay tuned!

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