What do you know about Industry 4.0? This term is used to describe the fourth great industrial revolution, characterized by the new production methods used in factories. To optimize their production lines, these "factories of the future" rely on artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing and cloud computing. All of these technologies are evolving at the speed of light, and must be mastered by any company wishing to remain competitive.
Despite its cutting-edge technology sectors, France is currently suffering from the de-industrialization that began 40 years ago.
While the gap in France's trade balance has been widening since the early 2000s, it seems that the Covid crisis, and more recently the war in Ukraine, have suddenly raised awareness of the need for reindustrialization. The figures speak for themselves: goods production accounted for 23% of French GDP in the 80s. Today, according to France Industrie, it represents just 13.5%.
A number of cutting-edge sectors contribute to France's international reputation. These include, of course, the luxury goods industry (of which France is the world leader), the automotive industry (Europe's 2nd largest), the aerospace industry (the world's 2nd largest exporter) and the pharmaceutical industry. On a European level, France is even the country that attracts the most foreign investors.
And yet, if we take a step back from the good students of French industry, we have to admit that the production of goods in France has been falling steadily for the past 40 years. Private companies have turned to cost-based competitiveness rather than value-based production.
While this strategy has allowed France to turn to a service economy, recent events highlight the need for a state to have its own resources.
The Covid crisis underlines an obvious point: a country that depends on others is, by its very nature, a fragile one. More recently, the war in Ukraine has driven the point home: while Russia supplies almost 18% of the world's gas, soaring energy prices are penalizing French companies, particularly in the aeronautics and agri-food sectors.
These unfortunate events have kick-started the whole process, and this is particularly true in this presidential campaign period. "We need to re-industrialize the country". This is the watchword of all our candidates.
However, reindustrialization is not going to happen overnight. And above all, we must not overlook one of the key factors in the success of this undertaking: making industrial jobs more attractive.
The growing complexity of industrial technologies goes hand in hand with the increasingly high requirements in terms of the level of qualification of employees. Despite the number of vacancies in the industrial sector, companies are having difficulty recruiting.
It's no secret that France has a glaring skills shortage. According to the Banque de France, nearly 40% of business owners are having difficulty recruiting.
The cause? A lack of interest in technical training, in favor of service professions. According to Éric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation,[the education system has a lot to do with this]: " The French education system needs to realize that it has a duty to guide people towards the fields that need them most ".
But that's not all. This skills shortage is also closely linked to the fact that the industry relies on increasingly advanced technologies, requiring advanced scientific and mathematical knowledge.
For example, among the most sought-after skills are, unsurprisingly, artificial intelligence, software development and the digital cloud. More traditional manufacturing skills (machining, assembly, quality management, process engineering, etc.) are also suffering from a shortage of candidates.
As a result, there is an urgent need to rethink the training system completely. Until now, the transmission of knowledge has focused on traditional know-how, to the detriment of skills related to digital tools.
How can plants remain competitive in this context?
Maintaining the competitiveness of 4.0 factories depends above all on the employees who work in them. That's why it's vital to boost the attractiveness of industrial jobs, notably by re-evaluating salaries, and enabling operators to undergo continuous training.
Internally, GPEC (forward-looking management of jobs and skills) plays an essential role. The challenge? For each company to be able to precisely map the skills it possesses, in order toanticipate training and recruitmentneeds. Indeed, the evolution of technologies used in factories requires employees to demonstrate versatility, particularly when faced with increasingly sophisticated machines.
Yet many players in the industry struggle to effectively manage the different skills of their teams. In practice, skills management is most often carried out via Excel spreadsheets, which are difficult to update. It is estimated that 80% of operators do not have access to a computer. No wonder productivity gains are a real headache for managers: the way teams are managed has been the same since the 90s.
The need for digitalization is therefore becoming ever more pressing, in order to meet the demands of tomorrow's industry. On the one hand, factories have an interest in training their employees in the new technological tools. On the other, they need toequip themselves withmodern solutions to boost productivity. Whatever the case, the secret to competitiveness in the factories of the future lies in one word: people.
In the age of factory 4.0, France's industrial reconquest is necessary to guarantee the country's sovereignty. Re-industrialization won't happen overnight, and requires real work to make industrial jobs more attractive. The national education system has an important role to play in this, by giving greater prominence to the training paths that lead to these professions. Companies play an equally important role in the reindustrialization process. It's up to them to implement strategies to attract and retain talent. In particular, this means raising salaries, better in-house skills management and ongoing training to ensure the employability of operators.