“Industry 4.0” is sure to be one of the hottest economic topics in the coming years, so it is important that we understand now what it actually means. The term refers to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution which has just begun and which follows the rise of the steam engine in 1784 and of electricity in 1870 and the start of the information age circa 1970. This fourth revolution centers around three main trends. The first of these concerns the use of data, related processing power, data storage and “machine learning”, a term which refers to all those processes by which machines can understand data and use it to enhance their own performance. The second trend concerns the increasingly profound connection between man and machine, everything from touch interfaces to augmented reality. Finally, there is the transition from digital to physical, which encompasses 3D printing, robotics, machine-to-machine interaction, and new technologies for the focused storage and use of energy, which rationalizes costs and optimizes performance. In other words, it is a sort of ecosystem comprising technological innovation, network infrastructure, specific skills and new security and safety standards applicable throughout industry. The expression “Industry 4.0” was used for the first time in 2013 at the Hannover Fair, although the actual start was established at the World Economic Forum 2016, which was held in Davos (Switzerland) from January 20-24 and focused on the theme of “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
One of the primary effects of this Fourth Industrial Revolution will be seen in the job market. According to the report “The Future of Jobs”, which was presented at the World Economic Forum, Industry 4.0 will create two million new jobs over the next two to three years, but, at the same time, some seven million jobs will disappear. Italy is expected to come out essentially unscathed (with 200,000 jobs created and the same number lost), unlike other countries such as France or Germany. In terms of job types, the losses will be concentrated in administration and manufacturing, which the report claims will be partially offset by gains in finance, management, information technology, and engineering. The most sought-after skills will be changing as a result. By 2020, problem solving will remain the soft skill in greatest demand, but critical thinking and creativity will be increasing in importance. Last September, Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and Minister of Economic Development, Carlo Calenda, presented the government’s greatly anticipated plan for Industry 4.0, which is expected to be made a part of the upcoming stability law. The plan aims to mobilize an additional 10 billion euros in private-sector investment in 2017, as well as 11.3 billion in private-sector spending on research, development and innovation with a focus on Industry 4.0 technologies and over 2.6 billion euros in early-stage private-sector investment. The measure calls for a combination of fiscal incentives, support of venture capital, the spread of ultra-broadband, and higher education aimed at helping businesses to fully adapt to this fourth industrial revolution.