The digitization of the workplace is revolutionizing how companies produce goods. As smart manufacturing takes hold, Industry 4.0 technologies provide new ways to operate and pave the way to addressing the manufacturing skills gap.
Manufacturers worldwide are facing a skills gap. Skilled workers are hard to find, and job positions remain open. This trend has been accelerating for more than a decade and is now critical; there are more open jobs, which means more skilled workers are needed.
As smart manufacturing enters its next stage, the talent pipeline is low on highly technical skills that can harness the power of advanced technologies to produce more efficiently. Today, manufacturing leaders need workers with overlapping skills to deploy critical thinking and use digital tools.
Many people blame technology for the manufacturing skills gap, but the opposite is true: the rise of advanced automation and smart manufacturing creates the need for more skilled workers.
So, why do so many job positions remain open?
Most young workers get their impression of manufacturing from the media or their parents or grandparents. And that image is less than flattering. Many picture manufacturing in a dark, dusty, oily place where people expend a lot of physical energy to make widgets; they don’t see it as a viable option for a lifelong career.
Others may look at media depictions of a hazardous, smelly, and murky environment where pay is low. This view also includes the perception that manufacturing jobs are traditionally reserved for less educated workers whose contributions are only partially valued by a company.
Much of the manufacturing skills gap is caused by the retirement of an aging workforce, such as baby boomers, the skilled workers of their generation who are now exiting retirement in large numbers.
As a result, there need to be more skilled workers to take their place. Compounding this is that the skills required to fill open positions in new smart manufacturing are also in short supply.
Manufacturing employers are caught between a rock and a hard spot where they’re hesitant to hire older experienced workers who may only be there a short time yet have few options among high school students and young workers who have knowledge of digital tools and are available in the job market.
The manufacturing skills gap is further impacted by a need for those with the right technology skillsets. Today, the manufacturing sector depends on agility and having overlapping and highly technical skills.
Educational institutions are racing to create new programs, and many companies and communities offer workforce development programs to help build a new generation of workers. But these programs take time and money.
Skills Lacking in Manufacturing
While there are skills gaps across all industries, specific skills are lacking more than others. These skills require understanding how to use digital tools and put them to work in a smart factory.
Digital Twin Engineers – Technological advances and software development have led to the growth of digital twin technology. Creating simulations of product performance, R&D, time to market, and product improvement is more cost-effective. Engineers who understand how this technology applies to each industry sector are in demand.
Smart Factory Managers – A smart factory combines many systems, such as machine data platforms, ERP, MES, QMS, and more. Managers looking to close the manufacturing skills gap must understand how a smart manufacturing ecosystem works and how to utilize staff best.
Smart Quality Assurance Managers – Like smart factory managers, smart quality assurance managers must be well-versed in automation tools and deep analytics that replace traditional inspection and rework.
Robot Teaming Coordinators – Today, manufacturing equipment runs much faster than in the past. With greater quality and precision using robotics, technical expertise is needed to keep robotics running, and coordination of manual elements supplying or replenishing them is a critical skill.
Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is a collection of technologies that allow full automation and smart connectivity of assets. It refers to how data, computers, and automation revolutionize work performance.
Industry 4.0 is used to create smart environments for cities, universities, business practices, and operations. It’s especially applicable in manufacturing, where it drives advanced automation and deep analytics.
By automating control and analysis of complex manufacturing systems, Industry 4.0 allows for precision, quality, and throughput gains not possible with human intervention. It generates greater value for manufacturers while optimizing costs and processes and can help close the manufacturing skills gap.
Once again, the manufacturing industry is in a state of flux. The rise of several emerging technologies is bringing some excitement to an industry known for its repetitive processes while, at the same time, the backbone of this century’s industrialization drive is retiring. And yes, we mean the baby boomer generation. Statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that although boomers are working longer than any other generation, a retirement rate of 10,000 workers a day will deplete the global workforce in the coming decade.
The imminent retirement of older employees raises the question of how to bridge the manufacturing skills gap as a generation leaves the workforce. In the manufacturing industry, these challenges are even more pronounced as the industry requires approximately 4.6 million individuals to fill up job roles within the next decade. Further complicating the skills gap, manufacturing is still seen as a less attractive industry among generation X and Z prospective employees compared to the tech, finance, and healthcare industries. But this is where Industry 4.0 and the technological advancements powering it could help drive enough skilled workers into manufacturing jobs. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire in droves, Industry 4.0 technology is helping to pass their skills on to the next generation.
As the baby boomer generation continues to retire in droves, Industry 4.0 technology is helping to pass their skills on to the next generation.
The first step to training tomorrow's workforce and bridging the manufacturing skills gap lies in capturing the vast informal knowledge of the outgoing generation in the current workforce. Here, specific industry 4.0 models or concepts such as digitization and the use of digital transformation can help. One such technology is augmented reality (AR).
To achieve this, the tips and tricks baby boomers have honed during 40 years of constant application can be recorded and digitized to close the skills gap. Once in digital form, the captured knowledge can be integrated into virtual environments and different workplace scenarios can be built from them. Thus, a virtual training and validation model that can be used for training future generations will become available for use.
One such example is Unilever’s use of augmented reality to capture 330 years of shop floor expertise from its older professionals. Within its AR environment, the consumer goods manufacturer has been able to train new staff by creating workplace scenarios used in employee training. Unilever says it has witnessed a 50% drop in downtime and a considerable return on its AR investments.
Outdated workplaces which are also called brownfield facilities in the manufacturing area are no-go work spaces for the coming generation. According to the Workforce Institute at Kronos, approximately one in three prospective manufacturing workers will not work in non-digitized facilities while approximately 55% want flexibility with their work hours. This means the manual processes and workhorse mentality that defined manufacturing for years will not attract a generation trained with digital technology.
Here again, the digital transformation that comes with industry 4.0 can save the day. Manufacturing facilities who choose to digitize repetitive processes using enterprise relationship management tools and cloud-based applications have an edge when it comes to hiring and bridging the skills gap. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning through IoT devices and smart robots create opportunities for workforce development to deliver the work-life balance the new generation desires.
Successfully automating diverse processes and integrating smart devices within a shop floor makes it possible for employees to work from home at intervals. These emerging technologies defined by industry 4.0 provide interesting business cases that can be used to attract the coming generation to manufacturing.
While capturing data from retiring employees leaving manufacturing jobs ensures knowledge is retained from one generation to another, capturing analyzed data from legacy and existing machines simplifies training and deployment processes. Industry 4.0 concepts such as Machining as a Service (MaaS) provide the perfect solution for understanding machine performance and efficiency issues through the study of historical data.
Access to this data provides new employees with the information needed to understand how a machine functions and to develop predictive strategies. The captured data can also be used as digital onboarding training materials for young technicians tasked with maintaining earlier machines or assets on the shop floor.
IoT platforms such as MachineMetrics enable MaaS through the analysis of data collected from edge devices, legacy equipment, shop floor operations, and information from original equipment manufacturers. Employees can then rely on the extensive data captured and analyzed to build new facilities, deploy new machines and optimize manufacturing operations.
Industry 4.0 business models and the emerging technologies that enable them provide diverse options for prioritizing employee experience which is the key to bridging the manufacturing skills gap. Thus, to inspire the next generation and make manufacturing jobs an attractive niche once again, digitally transforming traditional processes is the key. And with the rise of artificial intelligence, IoT, MaaS, edge computing, cloud computing, AR, and robotics, inspiring the younger generations is no longer out of reach for any manufacturing enterprise.
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