The working world is undergoing a profound transformation, and the year 2024 promises an evolution towards Artificial Intelligence (AI), increased employee orientation with more flexible work models, and a focus on sustainability. Here are the top trends that we believe manufacturing companies should not ignore:
- The possible applications of AI will increase rapidly
After a 2023 full of hype and skepticism, especially regarding AI basic technologies like GPT, 2024 is shaping up to be a year of practical implementation. Companies strategically leveraging the capabilities of AI and automation will gain significant long-term competitive advantages. The use of AI to handle routine tasks such as data capture and processing, report and document creation, planning, and monitoring allows employees to focus on creative and design tasks.
The use of copilots also empowers less technically skilled employees to collaborate more intuitively and efficiently with technology. This can minimize errors, reduce machine downtime, and promote more sustainable production. Data and analyses are becoming more prominent and enable companies to create more precise forecasts, for example for personnel requirements. This leads to better resource allocation, a reduction in avoidable overtime, and more efficient utilization of labor. The use of AI-assisted tools for workforce planning allows companies to be more flexible in responding to production changes while simultaneously increasing employee satisfaction.
Ethics and social responsibility will play a significant role in AI use
As AI integration progresses, the ethical dimension of AI use becomes increasingly important. The introduction of ethical guidelines, such as the EU’s “AI Act,” and various initiatives for corporate policies, like INFORM’s responsible use of AI, and employee training on ethical issues will be central elements in AI use. Employees, employee representatives, employers, and technology providers will collaboratively define frameworks and rules for AI deployment. The responsible development of AI systems not only complies with regulatory requirements but also strengthens the trust of employees and customers in technological development. Companies will need to ensure that AI applications not only promote efficiency but are also ethically justifiable. This includes transparency in algorithmic decisions so that humans can understand all system decisions at any time. This approach can help avoid discrimination and protect privacy. While some critics view high regulatory requirements as a competitive disadvantage and an innovation hindrance, they simultaneously foster consumer trust and can contribute to increasing acceptance of AI in businesses and the public.
2. Sustainable production will become more firmly established as a competitive advantage
These strategies go beyond compliance and become a crucial differentiator. Customers are increasingly interested in sustainably manufactured products. By implementing environmentally friendly practices, companies can not only minimize their environmental impact but also tap into new market segments, strengthen their brand image and present themselves as attractive and forward-looking employers. The integration of AI plays a key role in efficiently monitoring and optimizing resource consumption and emissions. For example, energy consumption data can be analyzed and suggestions for more efficient processes can be made through pattern recognition. AI can be used to optimize the flow of materials by predicting demand more accurately, allowing production to be better managed, resulting in lower inventory levels and less waste. AI-based image recognition and machine learning can also be used in quality control to detect errors early, reducing the need for rework and minimizing waste. In product development, AI can be used to generate design proposals and thus (partially) automatically compare many alternative solutions.
3. Employees will move further into focus
The “Great Resignation” of 2022 will be overcome through targeted measures to retain employees. Surveys already indicate a new trend, the “Big Stay,” where employees choose to stay at their current workplace instead of seeking new employment opportunities. Companies that focus on flexibility for employees, equal rights, physical and mental health, and sustainability create an environment where employees can grow. The trend is moving towards employees preserving their loyalty to the current company and building a long-term career within it. Production companies are increasingly turning to technology to improve the working experience of their employees. Digital tools such as apps or platforms for employees, allowing them to view shift schedules, vacation and working hours accounts, exchange shifts, and communicate with each other, offer opportunities to make the workday more efficient and flexible. This way, even part-time employees can be scheduled more easily, and employee preferences can be better accommodated. The automation of administrative tasks, providing training through online platforms, and implementing employee participation systems also contribute to increasing employee satisfaction and optimizing work processes.
We will work more flexibly
The 4-day workweek remains a much-discussed topic, especially due to the influence of the “Generation Z.” Although not easily applicable in all industries, there is a clear demand for more flexible work models. For production, the 4-day workweek model is not easily implementable.
However, there is no doubt about the need for more flexible work models. In addition to improved ways of meeting the needs of employees, these models also support a more demand-oriented, adaptable production. Flexible models offer more opportunities for part-time employees, who can be deployed in a targeted manner to meet highly volatile requirements and contribute to the heterogeneity of the workforce. Whether mothers, people in partial retirement or carers – people in a wide variety of life circumstances and obligations could ramp up and down their workload in flexible models depending on their life situation. The more diverse this workforce is, the better it complements each other in planning. Lifetime working hour accounts could further increase flexibility. This way, the needs of employees can be better met while improving demand coverage.
The integration of these trends into workforce management allows manufacturing companies to respond more flexibly to challenges while simultaneously increasing efficiency and employee satisfaction.