Académie des technologies

The rise in technological skills of SMEs: the case of industrial companies

On 20 September at Dassault Systèmes Prime Minister Édouard Philippe presented the government’s plan to transform French industry through digital technology, stating that “this new industrial revolution must not remain the prerogative of a few groups”. At approximately the same time, the National Academy of Technologies of France, in a report adopted in plenary session on 12 September, calls for a general and immediate mobilisation to boost the technological skills of industrial SMEs.

After the publication of the report “Industry of the future: from the technical system 4.0 to the social system” (2017), the National Academy of Technologies of France continued its deliberations on the future of industry and is now devoting a new report to industrial SMEs in our country.

Digital technologies (robotics, Big data, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, augmented reality, additive manufacturing, modelling and simulation, digital platforms) and new management tools (product life cycle, supply chain, industrial processes) require new collective and individual skills in industrial SMEs. These skills – technological and non-technological – are inseparable. However, not all industrial SMEs are at the same level of maturity. The number of SMEs at risk of exclusion from the industrial game is now so large -20 to 40% depending on the sectors- and the number of jobs at risk is so considerable that a general and immediate mobilisation is needed to radically transform the current industrial fabric.

How to increase the skills of industrial SMEs, especially those that are on the verge of dropping out?

The Academy makes a number of recommendations to the stakeholders concerned – the State, Regions, territories, branches and sectors, training institutions, etc. – to accelerate the transformation of the industrial fabric.
Paradoxically, there is no shortage of agents to support industrial SMEs, but – and this is the other side of the coin – their number is a source of complications and their lack of coordination can be counterproductive. The Academy of Technologies recommends that the related mechanisms be made consistent and that unique coordination be established at each level, national, regional, local, from the State to geographical employment areas, including the Regions.

At the same time, synergies must be created between all stakeholders in the industrial transformation, particularly business leaders, whose crucial role in the process of increasing competitiveness and skills the Academy underlines:

•their involvement in the development of shared forward-looking visions of jobs and skills in a territory, branch or sector;

•their decision to train or recruit middle management capable of project management and of managing the digital transition.

In addition, the Academy notes that the law on the Freedom to choose one’s professional future, promulgated by the President of the Republic on 5 September, introduces innovations that are often important, some of which should facilitate the development of skills within SMEs. However, it is not certain that they will contribute to meeting the challenges; everything will ultimately depend on how the players concerned – entrepreneurs, workers, young people – adopt the new measures, some of which, pending the implementing decrees, retain a degree of imprecision.

Questions that remain to be addressed refer to characteristics of our culture and determine, to a large extent, the future of our economy and society:

•the image of industry, of its professions, of vocational training courses that prepare people for it these professions

• the relative sedentary nature of the workforce, the attractiveness of metropolitan areas and large cities for younger generations, etc. They will be at the heart of a forthcoming section devoted to the industry of the future, which will deal with the attractiveness of the industry’s trades and territories.


(Report in French)