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Home » Digital Transformation » How a human-centric approach would benefit the technology industry

Louise O’Gorman

Advance Centre Manager, ATU Sligo

The implementation phase of the digital transformation of businesses in Ireland is progressing at pace through a collaborative approach between the Government, academia and industry.

There has been strategic support from agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland as well as the provision of degrees and masters with the required technical knowledge by universities. This leads to sectors like that of medical devices — many of which are in the Western region of Ireland — remaining competitive by enabling Industry 4.0 technologies to create smart factories.

Focusing on inclusion

This digital transformation of businesses has allowed companies to become more cost-effective and increase productivity.

Academia is playing its part by creating initiatives such as the Advance Centre which provides accredited learning in areas like cyber security, data science and cognitive computing which are core technologies of Industry 4.0.

However, in 2021, the European Commission published a policy brief addressing some challenges of Industry 4.0. Critics say it may result in people left behind as it focuses mainly on the potential profit caused by using new innovative technologies.

Change for human benefit

In a vision for the future of European and, thus, Irish industry – the European Commission recently published a white paper: ‘Towards a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry.’ It recognises the power of industry to achieve societal goals beyond jobs and growth. It can make production respect the boundaries of the planet and place worker security at the centre of the process.

It is known as ‘Industry 5.0’ and complements the existing ‘Industry 4.0’ paradigm by having new technologies drive the transition to a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry. It moves the focus from solely shareholder value to stakeholder value.

The human-centric approach puts human needs and interests at the centre of the production process.

Rather than asking what can be done with new technology, ask what the technology can do for people.

Stability in technology

Rather than asking what can be done with new technology, ask what the technology can do for people. To be sustainable, the industry must develop circular processes that reuse, re-purpose and recycle natural resources.

Technologies like artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing can contribute by optimising resource efficiency and minimising waste. Finally, resilience refers to the need to develop a higher degree of robustness in production, protecting it against disruptions and ensuring its ability to provide and support critical infrastructure in a crisis.

Geopolitical shifts and natural crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, highlight the fragility of our current approach to globalised production.

Shifting industry priorities

Evidence shows that when making career choices, the new crop of graduates of millennials and Generation Z are influenced by how a company impacts its people and the planet as well as its profitability. By acknowledging the pillars of Industry 5.0, companies in Ireland will continue to attract and retain talent.

To move from policy to practice, how will universities in Ireland react to the need to produce graduates from STEM programmes who have human-centricity, sustainability and resilience at their heart? There will need to be a strategic approach and a focus on areas such as lifelong learning and transdisciplinary education.

Value of learning opportunities

The technological advancements of Industry 5.0 require a change in the current workforce. The new generation of engineers is expected to learn new skills throughout their careers. Universities must be more flexible and adaptable and have continuous learning environments.

Forward-thinking HEA supported schemes like the Advance Centre, which offers a modular approach to learning, are already providing this lifelong opportunity to employees.

Universities will have to provide transdisciplinary environments where societal, engineering and sustainability-related modules will be designed together rather than in separate modules or programmes. The provision of competencies for the innovations of Industry 5.0 — like cyber-physical systems — cannot be designed and developed without transdisciplinary environments.

New frameworks and methodologies, such as microcredentials and future thinking are encouraged by universities.

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