Changes in the nature of work have a profound impact on the roles of HR managers, however the impacts of digitisation on their role(s) have been given short shrift.

This Innovation Fund Round 3 project will examine the role of the HR function and HR managers in Industry 4.0 (I4.0), and the extent to which HR managers pursue, support or enable ‘good work’ outcomes from the implementation of digital technologies.

In a manufacturing context, I4.0 refers to the adoption of several complementary technologies that support the development of a virtual factory through real-time control of quality and production volume and flows. The impact of I4.0 on the manufacturing workforce is likely to be profound.

The research therefore asks what role HR managers and the HR function play as intermediaries in I4.0 adoption/ implementation?  And to what extent does their involvement (e.g. via employee participation, up/re-skilling, job redesign) promote ‘good work’?

The project will draw on in-depth interviews with HR managers and other stakeholders in the food processing sector in the UK and Ireland.

Research questions

  1. What role do HR managers play as intermediaries in the negotiation between management and labour on the adoption of digital technologies?
  2. How does the role of HR managers and the HR function shape the impacts of new technologies on workers, including changes in work organisation/intensity, skill requirements and job quality?
  3. How do structural and strategic impacts related to I4.0 shape the potential intermediary role of the HR function?


Semi-structured interviews and document analysis of sector reports and white or grey papers.


Principal Investigator: Cassandra Bowkett, University of Manchester

Co-Investigator: Huw Thomas, University College Dublin