The aim was to discuss the latest challenges that automation, robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) create, and how business should prepare for these. The event also focused on the cooperation needed between business, local authorities and education, as well as the role of business support organisations such as clusters and science parks.
The event was formally opened by Kazimierz Karolczak, member of the board of the Silesian Voivodship, and also therecently appointed chairman of the Upper Silesian Metropolitan Area. He explained the importance of sustainable development based on the competitiveness of local businesses. The Silesian Voividship is the second-most powerful region of Poland, generation over 12% of national GDP. Key sectors, he said, are energy, automotive, logistics and pharma. In recent years, the province has also become home to a large number of IT and high-tech firms.
Linking business and higher education is seen as an important part of maintaining the region's competitiveness. Janusz Michałek, chairman of the Katowice Special Economic Zone, Marek Pawełczyk, pro-rector of the Silesian Technical University and Dariusz Laska from the University of Silesia, were present, representing Pro-Silesia, the association bringing together the most important institutions for the region.
The first presentation, from Andrzej Kwaśniewski from the Marshal's Office, set out in detail the various forms of financial support for SMEs engaging in R&D activity. Michael Dembinski, the BPCC's chief advisor, spoke next, defining the Fourth Industrial Revolution, placing it in the context of the demographics of Poland's labour market (see graph below).
The large number of Poles in their early 30s form a demographic peak, after which there is a drop in the numbers, with each successive age cohort being on average 17,500 smaller than the previous one. There are around 700,000 34 year-olds, but only 350,000 14 year-olds, so if employers are worried today, the labour market will only get tighter over the next seven years, he said. At the same time, an early demographic peak (those born in the late 1950s) are approaching retirement age. However, it is foreseen by various think-tanks that by 2030, between 30% and 45% of all jobs will disappear, due to robotics and AI. New technologies - robotics, artificial intelligence, IoT and distributed ledger will automate whole swathes of routine work in accounts, supply chain and database management. What skills shoulld employees possess to remain valuable in the world of Industry 4.0? How should the Polish state respond with an education policy to fit the needs of tomorrow's labour market? These questions would be answered in the remaining part of the event.
Michał Kreczmar, a director at PwC, outlined the future of digitisation in industry, showing how it impacts the value chain, products, services and business models will impact companies, their employees, their clients and suppliers. He gave case studies from Bosch Siemens, Waymo and Boeing as well as Polish businesses. He defined the biggest two barriers to implementing Industry 4.0 solutions as finance and infrastructure. Mr Kreczmar also talked about Digital Innovation Hubs as a model for supporting business in matters of improving their competitiveness and implementing digital solutions.
The situation on the Silesian labour market and the availability of skills currently required from candidates were discussed by Karolina Szyndler, business manager from Hays. Currently unemployment across the province is 5.6%; there are 2,818,424, of working age, of whom 492,359 are employed in manufacturing industry. The most sought-after candidates are technical graduates, engineers, IT specialists with a few years experience, in particular those with good 'soft skills' - able to work in groups, good at communication, risk-taking and decision making, with high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence.
After a networking coffee break, Luk Palmen, chairman of the board of InnoCo from Gliwice spoke on behalf of the Silesia Automotive & Advanced Manufacturing Cluster, located in the Katowice Special Economic Zone. It currently brings together 60 firms, three business support institutions and eight scientific institutions. He discussed the cluster's role in facilitating a forum whereby competing companies could discuss issues concerning innovation, exchanging best practice and visions for developing a strong centre of competence.
Next, on behalf of Pro Silesia, Marek Pawełczyk, vice-rector for science and development of the Silesian University of Technology and Dariusz Laska, vice-chancellor for development and industrial cooperation of the University of Silesia in Katowice discussed the processes of modern education and scientific research. In particular, they talked about the challenges of fitting these tot he needs of Industry 4.0, and how this was being implemented by the two best-known universities in Silesia. At present, a law to create a body that will manage the Polish Industry 4.0 platform is being prepared. This platform will act as an umbrella for all competence centres of Industry 4.0 located across Poland. Similar initiatives already work well in Germany, the Netherlands and in Slovenia. The Silesian University of Technology together with the Katowice Special Economic Zone have developed the concept of the Silesian Competence Centre of Industry 4.0 and have forwarded this on to the Ministry of Development. The decision to establish a Polish Industry 4.0 Platform is now anticipated. Mr Pawełczyk also presented the concept of a dual-study programme (the combination of work and study) in automation and machine building that is conducted in cooperation with automotive companies in Silesia.
The University of Silesia in Katowice has 12 faculties, 25,000 students and nearly 250,000 graduates. Mr Laska discussed the creation of new faculties set up to educate young people for evolving technological needs, and training courses that raise professional qualifications (including soft skills). He also mentioned the concept of the implementation doctorates (PhDs earned by implementing techologies into commercial life, rather than just writing theses). He also covered the activities of the university's Career Bureau, and the grants for innovative student projects such as isolation and characteristics of wild strains of yeast that may be used in the brewing and cosmetics sectors.
Paweł Szulc, chief technologist at Bodycote Polska talked about the Practical aspects of implementing Industry 4.0. Bodycote is a leading provider of heat treatment and specialist thermal processing services with seven production sites in Poland, including Zabrze and Gliwice in Silesia. Mr Szulc discussed implementation of Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA), a system used to monitor and control equipment in production sites. Its principal functions include gathering the current data, their visualisation, the process control and data archiving.
The last substantive part of the conference was a panel discussion with the participation of all speakers, moderated by Michael Dembinski. The conference ended up with a networking meeting.