Thought Leadership

Industry 4.0’s impact on the Generation Z workforce

By AbhijitB

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I came across an interesting observation. Of those listed as the 75 all-time richest people in the world, which included everyone from the Sultan of Brunei and Queen Cleopatra to Bill Gates and Mukesh Ambani, almost one-fifth of these people were born between 1832 and 1840 – people like John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan. Four of them (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, Vinod Khosla) were all born in 1955.

One definite commonality we can draw among these two groups of people is during the times of their successes there have been the influence of the Second and Third Industrial Revolution, respectively.

In the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (also known as Industry 4.0), the group to have the most impact is coming of age. This group will include people from Generation Y, more recognized as Millennials and includes such pioneers as Mark Zuckerberg, and Generation Z. By 2025, it is estimated they will encompass 75 percent of the global workforce.

Industry 4.0 and Generation Z

In Industry 4.0, we build machines which functionally represent how a human brain works, such as its ability to understand patterns, its power of reasoning and its command over language. We’re applying technologies designed to perceive, reason, communicate and act autonomously. In its current form, we communicate with such technology-enabled devices – and Gen Z grew up with this advancement literally in the palm of their hands.

Increasingly, skills in Gen Y and Gen Z will be determined by their abilities to work with smart, intelligent technologies. With technologies such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant applying advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, we’re at an early stage of such an evolution.

The underlying cause of each of the Industrial Revolution is technology. Technologies evolve and augment products, like what we’ve seen in automobiles or home HVAC systems. Today’s technologies continue transforming lives and societies, like what we’ve seen in communication with the Internet and mobile telephony.

The Millennial and Generation Z Workforce

Well-known inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil drew an analogy between computing power and zoological brains in his book Singularity is Near. A supercomputer 50 years ago could do 0.25 MIPS (Million Instructions per Second), which is equivalent to the intelligence of a bacteria or a worm. The IBM Blue Gene computer in 2007 could do 1 million Giga Flops, or 10¹⁵, instructions per second – estimated to be equivalent to the brain power of a mouse. As the final major group of Gen Z graduates from university by 2030, Turing-certified computers – machines indistinguishable from a human being – are expected to be ubiquitous.

Most Millennials are already in the workforce. They are the first true “digital pioneers” growing in an analog world and then embracing computers and information technologies during their formative years. But with Gen Z, it’s always been digital, and the world is one of connectivity and networking. Their lives are spent in a virtual world connecting and replicating virtually every aspect of the physical world, whether it’s shopping on, streaming on Netflix or hailing a ride on Uber. This virtual world is highly personalizable and has introduced new modes of expressions and communication such as emojis or GIFs.

College curriculums should be increasingly aligned towards research and addressing industry challenges. The objective should focus on theoretical research combined with the do-it-yourself, frame of mind of Gen Z. If Gen Z had questions, they Googled it or found a YouTube video to assist in its application. Research is part of their way of life.

Industry 4.0_Generation Z_Gen Z.png

Industry 4.0 Skills to Succeed

Businesses increasingly need to have a strategy around leveraging the right technologies. In the context of Industry 4.0, we see the increasing importance of digitalization in bridging the virtual and physical worlds.

Some of the underlying transformational technologies in digitalization influencing Industry 4.0 are:
1. Augmented or Virtual Reality
2. Advanced Robotics
3. Additive Manufacturing
4. Cloud Computing and IoT
5. Data Security
6. Artificial Intelligence
7. Automation of Knowledge through Machine Learning and Big Data
8. Autonomous Systems
9. Blockchains
10. Genetics and Nano Technologies

Just like generations before them, such as Baby Boomers taking a page from Star Trek to spark imagination in the aerospace industry, Gen Z employees and students can find inspiration in culture. Garrett Camp, cofounder of Uber, first came up with the idea of tracking a vehicle on a map from the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale. More than inspiration, members of Gen Z can become skilled in some of these technologies and use it to turn their surreal visualizations and ambitions into a problem-solving reality.

With advancements and developments of new technological arenas, one of the biggest challenges for countries and organizations is having the right talent. Per the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, most of the current in-demand opportunities or specialties in industries didn’t exist a decade ago. The report highlights that the biggest driver of change in employment is technological.

In terms of talent in STEM, Germany has the highest rating basis in the survey from Deloitte Global in 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitive Index, citing its dual system of combining class room trainings with real-world application. India and China also have one of the highest growth in STEM graduates, but will require further industry experience to bridge the skill gaps to be productive.

Finding and retaining the right talent will be critical for organizations. Organizational cultures have to build focusing on the needs of Gen Y and Gen Z. In Promote Yourself, Dan Schawbel highlights core values of Gen Z as being tech-savvy, globally connected, flexible and tolerant of diverse cultures. Their communication styles are built from using social media and smart phones in a collaborative environment. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell mentions three avenues of job satisfaction:

(i) Autonomy – being responsible for own decisions;
(ii) Complexity – engaging mind and imagination and;
(iii) Connection between effort and reward.

For Gen Z, we’re observing a fourth dimension of job satisfaction being brought up in a shared economy: social impact in their role and the organization they work for.

Gen Z will likely find satisfaction in a non-hierarchical organizational structure with open office spaces that encourage and lead to collaboration and networking, conflicting with other generations used to offices and cubicles.

Finding Success at the Beginning of Industry 4.0

The average retirement age globally is around 60, but most countries are expecting to see that number rise due to longer life expectancy and health science developments. Industry 4.0 is pushing advancements in medical technology, almost ensuring life expectancies in the developed world to inch closer to 100 years.

This means people will have to work for 60 to 65 years if they enter the workforce at 25. To ensure decades of productivity, Gen Z workers will have to keep their skills relevant, continuously learning, relearning and acquiring new skills.

Most business organizations and nations understand the significance of an Industrial Revolution; societies and countries have been transformed by them. But it’s one thing to study it historically and another to adapt to it.

One thing is for certain. Among the Gen Zers, we will see members emerge to successfully ride the wave of Industry 4.0 to become the Rockefeller, Jobs, Musk or Zuckerberg of their generation.

This concludes our look at the impact Industry 4.0 and Generation Z will have on each other.

Tell us: How do you think the new Gen Z workforce will alter the workforce?

About the author 

Abhijit Barua currently heads channel sales in India and has been involved in a number of initiatives, including the tooling market segment and making the adoption of PDM easier for customers. Abhijit joined Siemens PLM in India in 2007 and has won a number of accolades, including Top Sales Person for APAC in GST 2008 and Top Account Award in GST 2011. Since 2012, he has been focusing in the Mid Markets and Channels.

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at