Automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, data, augmented reality, 3D printing … today’s manufacturing world looks a lot different to five or 10 years ago. But it’s not only the factory floor that’s changing; the shift towards Industry 4.0 demands a new set of skills in the workforce too. (You can find out the basics on Industry 4.0 here, while this article is a manufacturer’s practical guide to the technologies driving Industry 4.0.)
According to the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC), Australia’s workforce requires a “massive transformation”. The AMGC’s director, Michael Sharpe, said that while there is a demand for workers, the skills needed are changing with the times.
So, the crucial question for manufacturers is: what skills should you be building into your workforce?
Thinking about building and crucial questions, here’s another place where “just okay” isn’t “good enough”….
If you’re wondering what the right manufacturing workforce skills are, these should be top of the list to build into your workforce:
Critical thinking and problem solving
According to education expert Tony Wagner, critical thinking and problem solving are among the survival skills of the future. Gone are the days where senior leaders are expected to have all the answers. Today, front-line employees need to have strong analytical skills — the ability to test their assumptions, go beyond preconceived ideas and question the status quo. The ABC reports that, in future workplaces, 41% more time will be spent on critical thinking and judgment. These skills are the very foundations for innovation, and so by nurturing this skill-set, manufacturers will drive towards a more sustainable, competitive future. (You’ll find some excellent blogs on innovation here, including 3 brilliant lessons every food & beverage company can learn from Tesla.)
Digital engineering and process engineering
Experts agree that more manufacturers will be investing in digitisation and automation systems and technologies in 2018. But if manufacturers are to utilise these technologies effectively, the workforce needs to adapt too. Manufacturers need specialists who can envisage how their company can tap into digital technologies, identify areas of improvement and implement them effectively, taking into account the organisation’s specific needs. (Here’s an interesting piece on digitally driven Millennials in the workforce.)
This goes hand-in-hand with process engineering. Manufacturers need access to the expertise to design and build new systems and processes that use digital and advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce errors and increase efficiencies. This gives them the ability to look for opportunities to automate processes for improved productivity and quality.
As data become imperative to manufacturers, so too is the need for people who know how to interpret that data and use it to improve processes and make decisions. Using an understanding of IT systems, data and production processes, these employees can integrate software and leverage big data to perform quality control (QC) and predictive maintenance. They can interrogate data to determine the root causes of problems, identify patterns and find solutions.
And this isn’t limited to manufacturers; as we live in the information age, every workplace now requires employees who can assess information from many different sources through a critical lens.
Robotics is one of current knowledge gaps in parts of the industry, according to AMGC director, Michael Sharpe. Yet robot co-ordinators will soon become a must-have. Manufacturers require workers with skills above and beyond operating robotic machines to co-ordinate several robots at a time, perform routine maintenance and ensure robots are working to their full potential. (Here’s a look at social robots, while this is how the next-generation robots are transforming manufacturing.)
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
As virtual reality becomes a new manufacturing reality, the need for VR and AR skills is growing fast. The future workforce will require specialists who know how to use these technologies for the company’s advantage — whether that’s to support early product development, worker training, inventory tracking … or more.
If manufacturers are to build sustainable business foundations, they need to take more responsibility for developing a skilled workforce than they have done in the past. That means working on their ability to attract and retain workers with the right skills, developing a talent pipeline, and investing in training. If manufacturers can successfully build a workforce with the right skills, the future will be more navigable.
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Image credit: iStock / maxkabakov