The limits of automation and the value of human work

21.11.2017
The limits of automation and the value of human work

“We need to learn to understand the richness of diversity even better”, says Thymian Bussemer, Head of HR Strategy & Social Sustainability at Volkswagen AG. “Automation has limits. It’s capital-intensive and susceptible to faults. In addition, humans are much more flexible than machines…”

Dr. Bussemer, what will the value of human work be in the future?

Probably much higher than today. While simple tasks are likely to be automated further, the share of creative knowledge work is increasing, even on the factory floor. Automation has limits. It’s capital-intensive and susceptible to faults. In addition, humans are much more flexible than machines. 

At Volkswagen, we strive to keep a sense of balance when it comes to introducing technology. In areas where we can automate unergonomic workplaces, we’re pushing ahead with robots. But we aren’t going for automation in places where skilled workers are better suited to the task.

The limits of automation and the value of human work

Thymian Bussemer (Photo by Ériver Hijano)

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, we’re thinking a lot about the attractiveness of manufacturing work in the future. Skilled production workers are still bound to strictly timed systems and shifts. A part-time shift-work model for working hours could make things much easier. We’re additionally designing a shift-planning app that employees can use to swap shifts with one another directly. We also need to create more opportunities for skilled workers to discuss issues in their peer communities. In general, we’re trying to improve our communications and connectivity within the Company. Our internal Group Connect social media network is a good platform for this.

What cultural changes are needed at Volkswagen?

We have to break out of our divisional mindset, get in step with the customer, and focus hard on the value-creation process. And in many areas of the business we need to establish new, agile work cultures that facilitate faster innovation. This is particularly important in the new business segments. To do this, we need to gain an even better understanding of the richness of diversity. 

The interviewer was Anette Frisch

Source: Volkswagen AG