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Impact of the digital transformation in the European chemical, rubber and plastics industry

On 19 January 2018, the European social partners of the chemical industry, industriAll European Trade Union (industriAll Europe) and the European Chemical Employers Group (ECEG) launched the EU financed social partner project entitled “The impact of innovation and digital transformation in the workplace: a sector-specific study of the European chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber and plastics industry”.

In order to implement the project objectives, a cooperation was established with the research institute, Prognos AG. The institute conducted an EU-wide research study – including desk research, a survey, and expert interviews – to showcase the current level of digital awareness in the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber and plastics sectors, as well as to assess the impact of innovation and digital transformation on workers’ competences/skills needs, working patterns and on health and safety. Around 500 respondents from above mentioned sectors and different EU Member States completed the survey alongside 30 expert interviews.

Preliminary research results were presented during the first conference “Our Future Workplace – Digital transformation in the chemical industry” on 18 – 19 October 2018, Tallinn. The preliminary findings show that job transformation is more likely than job reductions for the chemical, pharmaceutical, rubber and plastics industry.

While workforce in some company divisions is at risk of losing jobs (especially in administration and accounting), new job opportunities are likely to arise in IT-services, R&D or management. The working environment will move towards increased mobile working and collaboration in heterogenous and interdisciplinary teams. Digital transformation in the sector is expected to reduce the number of hazardous tasks though this might increase the level of psychological stress. Overall, the general health of employees is expected to stay the same or to improve slightly.

Moreover, the research findings have shown increased relevance and importance of the social dialogue, particularly of collective agreements where such topics as working-time flexibility and mobile working will be increasingly dealt with in the next five years. At the same time, qualification, data protection and performance monitoring will need greater consideration.

Finally, the preliminary results show that a skills shift is clearly visible. Whereas basic digital skills broadly exist, advanced technical[1] digital, social[2] and transversal skills[3] will require more attention.

Those results will be more extensively explained with the publication of the final report in the following months. The final research survey results will be used as basis to formulate a social partner joint action plan on how to anticipate, prepare and manage change in the workplace as a result of innovation and digital transformation in three domains: skills, working patterns and health & safety.

The project website with more information is available here in three languages (EN, FR, DE).

[1] Technical skills: Use of IT-tools (use of software to process and store information) and Big Data analysis (skills for in-depth analysis and interpretation of large amounts of data)

[2] Social skills: The ability to work in multi-disciplinary teams, self-learning and adaptability

[3] Transversal skills are skills that are typically considered as not specifically related to a particular job, task, academic discipline or area of knowledge and that can be used in a wide variety of situations and work settings (e.g. critical and innovative thinking).

For more information contact:

Maike F. Niggemann

T: +32 2 226 00 53

M: +32 474 981 724

Emma Argutyan

T: +32 2 238 97 73

M: +32 493 093 273

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