Smart Skills for Smart Industry; How work changes in the factory of the future

2017 With the report ‘Smart Skills for Smart Industry. How work changes in the factory of the future’  TNO provides knowledge about the effects of digitization in industry; this knowledge can be used for the development of policies by companies, training centers and government and for the development of action agendas at sectoral, regional or local level.

Research questions

The research questions in this study are 1) What jobs and tasks will disappear, what jobs will change and what new jobs will arise? 2) What does this mean for the development of skills (which skills will be asked and which ones will not?), 3) How are companies and educational institutions currently dealing with these issues? 4) What are currently drivers, barriers, failure and success factors for both social and technological innovations, and 5) How does this translate into current and desired HR and education activities? These research questions are answered by desk research, 9 case studies of leading companies in smart industry (of which separate case study reports are included in the report) and a cross-case analysis. 

Some conclusions and recommendations

Some conclusions and recommendations from the cross-case analysis are:

  • Drivers for social and technical innovation are: staying competitive, meting higher quality requirements and responding quickly to new customer demands;

  • Although employment in industry in general has been declining for years, it appears that in these companies (both large and small) employment stays at the same level or is slightly growing;

  • The advanced manufacturing industry has high service-binding capabilities in design, after sales, repair, R & D, etc.;

  • The number of management and administrative jobs decreases. And we see a shift of skills – such as welding, that are taken over by robots – to professional knowledge especially of manufacturing processes, so that employees will be able to do diverse jobs. The recommendation here is: ‘Invest in knowledge and skills to enable and maintain a broad employability of employees. Invest in lifelong learning and promote the retention of motivation and employability of older workers’;

  • Most companies in this research, work mainly with permanent staff but ask of this permanent staff a high degree of flexibility, especially in tasks and working hours. The report recommends: ‘Develop new combinations of permanent and flexible work that are good for the company and keep the employees employable and motivated’;

  • ‘Hard skills’ remain important, especially practical experience with technology, but new is that ‘soft skills’ also become important for production workers: working in (self-managing) teams, communicating with customers and solving problems proactively;

  • Formal and informal learning: larger companies have a formal department of Education that provides a diverse range of training courses. In smaller companies this is not feasible. In smaller companies, informal learning and knowledge sharing are paramount. And the accompanying recommendation is: ‘Develop new combinations of formal and informal learning. Take advantage of the knowledge that is present in the company itself. Make use of master-companion constructions and promote participation in contests and awards’. And besides: ‘Explore innovative forms of cooperation with educational institutions’.

    A general recommendation is: ‘Invest in regional cooperation: jointly work on the development of new skills and use existing (regional) partnerships, but also focus on national initiatives such as – in the Netherlands – the fieldlab Social Innovation’


    TNO; Gijsbers,Govert; Broek,van den, Tijs; Esmeijer, Jop; Sanders, Jos; (2017) ‘Smart Skills voor Smart Industry. Hoe werk verandert in de fabriek van de toekomst.’ TNO-rapport. TNO 2017, R 10618. This Dutch report is attached.

    Some of the cases from this study were already in this knowledge bank; the old descriptions are completed with the results of this new study.