Is the footwear manufacturing ready for Industry 5.0?

Industry 5.0 vs Industry 4.0

Initially launched by the German government to increase industrial competitiveness, Industry 4.0 was the theme of a 2016 study requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE). This study aimed at highlighting interventions and establishing a set of measures to support the Member States in the transformation process required by the application of digital technologies and their connection with the goods and services offered to European citizens in their daily lives[1].

In January 2021, the European Commission published a report entitled Industry 5.0 – Towards a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry.[2] The pillars on which Industry 4.0 is based aim at Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to increase production flexibility and efficiency. Instead, Industry 5.0 adds social equity and sustainability to the above, emphasising humanity, the long-term progress of society, the conservation and rational exploitation of the planet’s resources.

According to the report mentioned above, Industry 5.0 goes beyond producing goods and services just for profit. Referring to the past misinterpretation of the 4th industrial revolution, Elon Musk, CEO at TESLA, said that “humans should be part of the ongoing industrial revolution“. Thus, the 5th industrial revolution should have a broader purpose and three core elements: human-centricity, sustainability and resilience.

According to Frost & Sullivan[3] the Industry 5.0 will empower humans to the companies’ shop floor. While Industry 4.0 was focused on customisation and smart products, the upcoming period is dedicated to hyper customisation and more advanced experiences through interactive products, being intensive on delivering customer experience rather than consumer goods.



Future jobs require new skills

According to the Future Jobs report prepared by the World Economic Forum, 65% of primary school children will have professions that do not exist now. In the shift transition from Industry 4.0 to Industry 5.0, the emerging technologies will create new cross-functional job profiles for which employees will need advanced technical and digital skills.[1]

If Industry 4.0 is about piloting virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence, IoT devices, cyber systems, or cognitive computing on a larger or smaller scale, Industry 5.0 will actually be the stage where these tools will be implemented at each level manufacturing company. Human employees and digital “performers” as the industrial robots are will share everyday working tasks across various manufacturing technologies. However, interpersonal communication skills and communication with intelligent machines will become essential in the new era of Industry 5.0.

Footwear companies are interested in gaining competitive advantages that allow them to use real-time information from various actors on a sustainable supply chain and streamline their production systems, business models, technologies&equipment and employees. Apart from operative digitalisation, sales on e-commerce platforms enriched with virtual try-ons powered by augmented reality and after sales services, such as the recovery of out-of-use products to reintroduce components or materials into the manufacturing process, are examples of business models to follow in a smart footwear factory.

After a very difficult 2020, the footwear industry has an opportunity to reset itself. According to the survey results recently published by World Footwear[2], the top three priorities for investment in footwear companies are digital communication, sustainability, and marketing.

A valuable study on the state of Industry 4.0 in the footwear industry was developed within the FEETIN 4.0 project[3]. According to this research, many footwear companies in Europe already recruit competent employees in mechatronics, communications, big data & analytics, interface design, robotics, 3D design, etc. Instead, there is a big gap between what the industry requires and what vocational education offers as competencies specific to Industry 4.0.  If we add to all these expectations the new needs for skills on human-centricity, sustainability and resilience required by the transition to Industry 5.0, we can say that this gap is deepening.



[1] Smit J.,Kreutzer S., Moeller C., (2016), Industry 4.0, available at:

[2]   Breque M., De Nul L., Petridis A., (2021),  Industry 5.0 Towards a sustainable, humancentric and resilient European, (2021), report of European Commision,


[4] The Future of Jobs, Report of World Economic Forum, available at:

[5] Business Conditions Survey, Report of World Footwear, (2021),  available at


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