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 skill 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. Also, 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.
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 skill gap lies in capturing the vast informal knowledge of the outgoing generation. 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. 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Outdated workplaces which are also called brownfield facilities in the manufacturing area are no-go work spaces for the coming generation.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 employees 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 skill gap. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning through IoT devices and smart robots create opportunities 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 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 skill gap. Thus, to inspire the next generation and make manufacturing 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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