Arantxa Tapia, the Basque Country minister for economic development and infrastructure, discusses how the Spanish region is preparing its workforce for the development of a new tech industry.

Q: Industry 4.0 is a big topic these days. How is that developing in Basque Country, and what can the regional government do to help ensure there is a successful linkage between manufacturing, industry and the latest technologies?

A: When we arrived in government, we decided that our industry was developing quite well in introducing new technologies, processes and services. But we realised that things were changing and new technologies were arriving – but the most important thing was connectivity. The transformation in our industry was going to be quite big. So we started working together with our companies to establish a strategy. From a very early stage the public and private [sectors were working] together. 

We have developed what we call a 'digital innovation hub', where we put all the facilities from universities and research centres in order to show what’s happening with all these technologies. We are very focused on small companies, because big companies are delivering these strategies and technologies quite well, but the smaller and micro companies have to operate at the same speed as the big ones.

[We are now in] the last stage, which is to work together: big companies, [together] with all the suppliers on the value chain, in order to have these big projects with big solutions, going from product to solution. This is the main issue we are working on. All these technologies – robotics, automation, data mining – are actually quite old, but working together with connectivity and with machines, the revolution could be something that is interesting for our industries.

Q: How do you reassure the population in Basque Country about artificial intelligence [AI] and its impact on jobs? How can you make sure the workforce fits the needs of the jobs of the future?

A: Of course, we have to consider that some of the jobs that are in our industries now are going to disappear. But new jobs are going to appear, so we have to be prepared for these new jobs.

And when we talk about AI, we are talking about a lot of things that are related to this concept. So, for instance, when we work with autonomous vehicles, with connectivity between vehicles and infrastructures, we are using AI. The main issue is to ask: ‘What, or how, am I going to use this technology to improve the quality of life of our people?’ And we’re trying to deliver on this kind of concept. 

There is another important field where we are working with AI, which is language. We have our own language, Basque. It is quite complicated and because there are only 2.2 million people in the Basque Country – not a big population – no big company visiting us is going to bring a translator, for instance. So AI could be an interesting technology in order to [solve this problem]. This is an example of the kind of [automation] that could be interesting to deliver these new technologies to our society.

And, of course, we are working with vocational training centres, with universities, and with research centres, in order to prepare and to train our people for these new jobs. But we have to consider at the same time that we have a lot of people already working in companies that also have to be prepared for the future. So this is the way that we are trying to cope with the new problems.

Q: You already have a well-established industrial cluster. What presence do foreign companies have there, and what kinds of companies are you trying to attract? What role can international companies play in your efforts to develop Industry 4.0?

Sometimes we feel that they are local companies, because they are very well engaged in the Basque Country – but we have lots of multinational and international companies that already have manufacturing facilities in the Basque Country. I think the most important thing for us is that they feel Basque, and this is something that we take care over, because we want them to feel at home. So we are small, but we are quite open and we want to continue in this approach.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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