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13.05.2016

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i4j Summit Germany: With courage and innovation towards a new way of working

The first "German i4j Summit - Innovation for Jobs" conference presented an opportunity for the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI), in collaboration with the U.S. initiative "Innovation for Jobs" (i4j), to discuss new ways of thinking about digitization and its impacts on the world of work. A number of design-thinking workshops were held before the conference and their results were presented at the conference.

Showed insights into the digital work environment of the Deutsche Telekom: Chief Human Resources Officer Dr. Christian Illek (l.). (Picture: HPI/D. Lässig)

"Be brave, be innovative" was the message from Dr. Andreas Goerdeler, head of the information society and media subdivision at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, to the participants of the German i4j Summit on the eve of the conference. Indeed, having the courage to innovate was a common theme throughout the conference. "Digital transformation is changing our lives and the way we work," said Prof. Christoph Meinel, Director of Potsdam-based Hasso Plattner Institute. But, he added, we are not yet in a position to say what social consequences the transformation will have - all we know is that we will have to face this challenge somehow. Meinel added that the conference should provide some insights.

Picture Gallery: i4j Summit Germany

 

Lifelong Learning as a Requirement for a New Work Environment

In his keynote speech, David Nordfors, chairman of the i4j, made the case for taking a new perspective on the employees within a company: "These days, companies focus on making money with things. But we should be looking at the individual people much more." Jobs, he said, are only filled with the future product in mind or with regards to the task at hand. In future, we should instead take a person-oriented approach that places greater focus on the specific skills of individuals - including the additional skills they have acquired in the course of their working and private lives.

Everyone agreed on one point: these days, something that we learned once upon a time may well become superseded or outdated during the course of our professional lives. However, further training measures are not always a straightforward solution, warned Dr. Christian Illek, HR Director at Deutsche Telekom AG: "You can't just 'pour' qualifications into every employee as if from a watering can." According to Prof. Meinel, the foundations for knowledge have to have been laid earlier. Above all else, he says, digital literacy should be taught in schools. Universities, too, have a responsibility: "Universities have to become advocates for lifelong learning. Of course, the Internet automatically springs to mind in this regard; thanks to new learning formats like massive open online courses (MOOCs), working people can be brought back into higher education virtually, and those who have not yet had a chance to study can be included."

HPI-TV: i4j Summit Germany 2016 (German only)


Digitalization Forces Politics to Question the Established

Yasmin Fahimi, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, has said that, "We need to rethink everything: salaries, social security and more. What political parameters are needed here?" The government plans to focus more on the practical aspects of the digital transformation, she continued, as nothing is automatically either good or bad. "The best way of handling change is to take an active part in shaping it," she said, with reference to widespread fears of massive job cuts as a result of increasing digitization and automation. "We want to enter into dialogue with industry, science and stakeholder associations to ensure that the digital transformation benefits everyone." A white paper entitled "Arbeit 4.0" (Work 4.0) will be drawn up in the course of this year.

Thomas Jarzombek, Internet Policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, warned against underestimating the effect the digital transformation will have on the world of work. In his view, two mistakes must be avoided: "The first is to tell people it won't be as bad as they think. The second is to resist change." That brought the discussions back full circle to the calls for a greater focus on (continuing) training and the development of individual skills. At the same time, Jarzombek stressed that, "The task of politics is to light the way to the future, and not to kindle fear of it."

Campaigned for a new Understanding of employees: i4j-Chairman David Nordfors. (Picture: HPI/D. Lässig)

Remove Fears, Show Chances, Strengthen Education and Free Up Spaces

Writer and columnist Steven Hill took a close look at what the technological shake-up means for local markets and seemed optimistic about the opportunities for the German market: "Mid-sized German companies are far more creative than Google, Apple or Facebook: they create jobs." However, he didn't deny that the changes will require a great amount of effort. All stakeholders should consider "which technologies point to the kind of future we want, and which lead to dystopia."

Cisco Chief Technology Officer Monique Morrow gave a good example of how technological progress can be used in innovative ways that offer a great deal of promise for the future.

She introduced the conference participants to SHE Platform, an IT platform designed primarily to help women get established in the IT sector. The main advantage of such approaches, she said, is that new technology is independent of gender, skin color or cultural background.

In short, taking fears seriously, emphasizing opportunities, bolstering education, and creating scope for new ideas were the four main points that determined the discussions in Potsdam. The call to join in and help shape the change process was voiced in many of the talks. As Prof. Meinel put it: "Even if we don't yet know exactly how, it is clear that our notion of 'work' is set to change - that is a fact. We have to take an active part in shaping that process."

State Secretary Yasmin Fahimi demanded: "We need to rethink everything." (Picture: HPI/D. Lässig)