The digital natives are restless. That’s the message being delivered by a series of recent studies examining the depth and breadth of the digital skills divide plaguing industries around the world.
Understandably, many employers faced with a shortage of workers with the digital skills they need to keep pace with the advanced technologies transforming the workplace are looking to digital natives to solve this problem.
After all, these younger workers were raised with computers. They’ve always had smartphones. They can’t remember a time without the Internet. Who better to bridge the digital skills divide so many industries are facing, right?
Unfortunately, recent studies suggest that not only do many of these younger workers feel unprepared to step into careers requiring digital skills, but they may indeed be ill-prepared to do so because of lack of adequate training by educational institutions and employers.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the growing digital skills divide, including its causes and potential solutions. We’ll also discuss Amatrol’s unique Industry 4.0 Fundamentals program that promises to help educational institutions teach the key digital skills young workers so desperately need.
The Growing Digital Skills Divide
In today’s world, technology has infiltrated every part of our lives. Our televisions are smart. Our watches and thermostats are smart. Our phones are smart. Can you think of an area of your life that hasn’t changed or been impacted by advanced technologies in some way?
The modern workplace is no different. According to a recent IndustryWeek article by Stephen Ezell, “[t]he global economy is becoming increasingly digitalized, with analysts at research firm IDC estimating 60% of global GDP will be digitalized (meaning largely impacted by the introduction of digital tools) by year-end 2022.”
Ezell points out that “this growing digitalization means that if economies are to remain competitive and productive, they’ll need workforces broadly equipped with the requisite digital skills to power this transformation.” In fact, “[t]he importance of such skills was highlighted in an exceptional 2017 Brookings Institution report titled Digitalization and the American Workforce.”
According to the Brookings study, “occupations in virtually all U.S. industries requir[ed] higher levels of digital skills over the past two decades, with the effect nowhere more pronounced than in manufacturing, where the share of jobs requiring medium to high levels of digital skill jumped to 82% in 2016, up from 53% in 2002.”
These findings are consistent with an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) report (The Manufacturing Evolution: How AI Will Transform Manufacturing and the Workforce of the Future) that “found that U.S. manufacturers are introducing dozens of new AI-focused jobs, as well as others requiring facility with digitally enabled technologies such as 3D printing, robotics, and the Internet of Things.”
These advanced technologies are often collectively referred to as “Industry 4.0” or the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” monikers that reflect the seismic impact these new technologies are having on the transformation of industries around the world.
What’s Driving the Digital Skills Divide?
According to a recent Salesforce article, “there’s just not enough people with the right digital skills to power their companies’ transformation now and in the future…There is low supply and high demand for digital skills, and the gap continues to widen due to an array of factors ranging from new emerging technologies to systemic social and economic inequities.”
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agrees. Its 2020 research showed that “fully one-third of working-age Americans possess at best limited digital skills.” These skills “cover a range of abilities related to the use of digital devices, communication applications and networks to access and manage information.”
According to the Salesforce article, there are multiple factors driving the digital skills divide: “[t]he demand for tech talent is outpacing an already short supply; [e]merging technologies amplify the need for digital skills; [h]igh costs and disorganized approaches with traditional education increase barriers to learning; [and] [a]ccess to digital infrastructure and skills is limited by socio-economic status.”
That’s why, according to a recent ZDNet article by Owen Hughes, “organizations – and the technology industry more widely – need young people more than ever. CWJob’s research found that 77% of IT managers saw these ‘digital natives’ as having the best ability of any generation to plug the tech skills shortage.
Can Digital Natives Bridge the Digital Skills Divide?
Unfortunately, today’s digital natives don’t seem to have the same confidence in their ability to bridge the digital skills divide. For example, Hughes points out that “[w]hile 72% of IT leaders think Gen Z will solve the digital skills shortage, only 24% of young people saw their age as an advantage when applying for tech roles. More than half (56%) said a career in technology seemed complicated, with 55% of young people saying they wanted more advice from schools and other educators on what a tech career entailed.”
Moreover, “[a] survey of 500 IT decision makers and 542 16 to 24-year-olds by CWJobs found that young people feel they lack the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue a career in tech, despite the fact many see it as a promising career path.” Another “survey of 1,000 16-24-year-olds by Accenture earlier this year found that only a quarter of young people feel confident about securing a job in the tech industry, despite the fact they possess strong digital skills.”
What can be done to empower today’s digital natives to seek careers requiring advanced digital skills? Hughes argues that “[e]mployers and educators need to do more to improve young people’s confidence in technology careers and their own digital abilities.”
The Salesforce article advises that “[n]ow more than ever, businesses must work closely with governments and community stakeholders to ensure that training scales up to match digital demand and accelerate recovery and growth…Sustained investment in digital skills to support the shift in career opportunities driven by digitalization is imperative to the global economic recovery and to resilient, long-term economic growth.”
In his article, Ezell notes that efforts need to start with educational institutions:
“Accordingly, the United States needs to redouble its commitment to digital skills education and ensuring that America boasts of the world’s leading digitally skilled workforce, a challenge which will have to be met by a broad range of stakeholders, from individuals themselves, to education systems across the K-12, community college, and university levels, businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies.”
How to Teach Industry 4.0 Fundamentals
How can educational institutions at the secondary and post-secondary level ensure that they’re providing the knowledge and hands-on digital skills that young workers will need to make a difference in the workplaces of today and tomorrow? Fortunately, they don’t have to recreate the wheel.
With over 30 years of experience, Amatrol remains the world’s leader in technical education training systems and eLearning curriculum. Amatrol recognizes the importance of teaching the relevant digital skills future workers need to thrive in Industry 4.0 jobs. That’s why Amatrol created a multi-year program focused on teaching these specific skills.
Amatrol’s Industry 4.0 Fundamentals (I4F) program was developed by subject matter experts in conjunction with real-world feedback from industry and educational institutions to ensure that students with no background in manufacturing can begin with the basics like industrial safety, hand tool skills, etc. and build to industrial competencies in areas like PLC troubleshooting, mechatronics, and data analytics, as well as learning to program and operate a FANUC robot.
I4F is a two-year program that spans four major courses: Introduction to Mechatronics; Introduction to Industrial Control Systems; Industrial Robot Operations and Programming; and Introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT). This comprehensive training program will both educate and inspire students, because it utilizes a combination of learning methods to give students a robust experience in both theoretical knowledge and hands-on, real-world Industry 4.0 skills.
For example, I4F combines in-depth eLearning curriculum and virtual trainers with relevant skill assessment and hands-on experience with real industrial training equipment. Pre- and post-lesson quizzes, as well as classroom-based skills performance assessments, help learners to understand where their competency is weak or strong and how much they’ve learned from the lessons.
Amatrol’s eLearning offers flexible technical training through superb content with strong interactivity for skill development with 24/7 access. Eye-popping graphics, 3D simulations, videos, and complete explanations combine to develop technical skills for modern Smart Factory manufacturing training.
Amatrol’s hands-on Industry 4.0 training systems are designed by engineers and subject matter experts and loaded with real-world, industrial components for the closest possible experience to working on-the-job. They are heavy-duty and ready to stand up to frequent use and inexperienced users. For times when access to equipment is limited, learners can still gain hands-on experience using Amatrol’s virtual trainers.
Amatrol’s virtual simulators replicate hands-on equipment in such great detail that learners will feel like they are using the actual equipment. Learners perform essentially the same tasks using virtual trainers that they would using the hands-on systems.
Consult with an expert at Amatrol today to learn how you can take the first step toward teaching your students Industry 4.0 Fundamentals that will set them up for success in the modern workplace.
About Duane Bolin
Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer in the technical training solutions market.