Today, I would like to shed some light on another important aspect: Within the framework provided by the legislative power and by the economic conditions, the future of work will be shaped very much in a dialogue between employees and employers – and this dialogue will be led to a large degree by their representatives: unions and employers’ associations.
One of the pillars of the German economy is the traditional sound cooperation between employers and unions. In the chemical industry, in particular, the close social partnership between management and labor can be seen as a formula for economic success, mutual trust and social stability.
Pragmatic and results-oriented dialogue
The German Mining, Chemical and Energy Industrial Union (IG BCE) and the German Employers’ Federation of the Chemical Industry (BAVC) meet as equal partners and discuss, in a constructive atmosphere, the most effective path to a successful future for the companies and their employees. Naturally, in the ongoing process of dialogue and exchange, differences of opinion arise. But in the end, all those involved are aware of the great responsibility they bear for ensuring competitiveness and social balance. Accordingly, the parties to the social partnership engage in dialogue in a pragmatic, cooperative and results-oriented manner. The issues they address range far beyond specific working conditions or compensation levels. Many agreements between the social partners – for example with regard to retirement pensions, demographic change, or equal opportunity – have brought a range of benefits to the chemical industry and its employees over the past decades.
“For many years now, there has been a growing need in the chemical industry for well-trained specialists for demanding tasks, while the need for simple manual labor has been decreasing.”
Skilled workers are key for future world of work
And today the issue of managing the shift to a digitalized world is playing an increasingly prominent role in the discussions. Though there is still much uncertainty associated with the new challenges, this much is clear: With the advance of intelligent, networked production systems, the share of hard physical labor requiring a low level of skills will continue to decline. Yet none of this is a new trend, far from it. For many years now, there has been a growing need in the chemical industry for well-trained specialists for demanding tasks, while the need for simple manual labor has been decreasing. Our figures in this area are no doubt typical: Two-thirds of our employees in Germany have a university degree or have completed a three-year apprenticeship with a specialist qualification. The share of these highly qualified employees is growing by 2.4% per year on average. In contrast, the share of employees with limited specialist skills has remained stable at around just 3% of our overall workforce.
People make the difference
In discussions with the Works Council, there is agreement on several points: Raw materials and machinery do not drive innovation in the chemical industry; people and their creativity do. More than ever before, knowledge is a guarantee for competitiveness. Wherever possible, we must therefore define new tasks, develop modern job profiles and organize the corresponding training. The top priority, however, is that we develop the ability to operate in the new digital world.
Thus, there are no conflicts along the lines of “people versus technology” or “human resources versus information technology”. At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, this becomes especially clear given that IT and HR are the responsibilities of one and the same Executive Board member. IT is not in opposition; rather, it serves people and gives them the opportunity to focus on more important and more interesting tasks.
Bring all employees on board
Agreement exists on a further important point as well: The necessary changes at the sites and in the laboratories and offices cannot and should not be dictated “from above”. It is essential to bring all employees on board and to inspire them with enthusiasm for the opportunities offered by digitalization. Here, once again, communication skills and face-to-face dialogue are needed. People will continue to be the focus in the future. And only a digital strategy that is accepted and supported by all those involved will reduce the complexity of business processes and make the organization more efficient, mobile and successful.
I’m convinced that employees and employers will be able to shape the new world of work together. And I’m even more convinced that this collaboration is necessary to transform the environment successfully to be ready for the future of work. And the good news is: The dialogue has already begun.