As the global economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers all over the world are still struggling to fill hundreds of thousands of open positions. Despite their best efforts, manufacturers face a shortage of highly-skilled workers to meet their increasing demand.
The skilled labor shortage isn’t the only challenge facing manufacturers, though. Global supply chain disruptions, inflation, and a host of other problems make the modern manufacturing landscape one of the most difficult to navigate in decades.
Fortunately, a host of new automated manufacturing technologies are transforming the way modern manufacturers do business. The technological revolution known as Industry 4.0, Smart Automation, or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is helping manufacturers continue to thrive even in the face of mounting challenges.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the labor challenges manufacturers are grappling with and how a variety of new smart automation technologies are helping them to bridge the skills gap. We’ll also examine how the experts at Amatrol can help provide the training solutions manufacturers need to ensure workers have the hands-on skills they need to succeed.
Wanted: Highly-Skilled Manufacturing Workers
Why are manufacturers around the world demanding more highly-skilled workers than ever before? It’s no mystery to those familiar with the modern manufacturing landscape. The current state of manufacturing is smarter and more automated than ever before, and it’s only growing and accelerating. As Blake Moret, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Rockwell Automation, recently noted, “We’ve experienced 20 years of evolution in 2 years.”
In fact, the experts at Rockwell Automation and Plex, in association with Sapio Research, recently released the results of a comprehensive survey of 1,353 global manufacturers across 13 of the top manufacturing countries in their Eighth Annual State of Smart Manufacturing Report (the “report”).
What they learned is that many manufacturers see technology as a means to address one or more of the many challenges they face in today’s manufacturing environment. For example, “[s]killed labor – and labor of any kind – continues to be elusive across the globe. As manufacturers continue to seek opportunities for profitable growth, they’re finding that uncertainty in workforce availability is impacting quality, along with their ability to meet their customers’ needs and transform at pace. They are addressing this impact by using technology to extract data from their operations and assemble actionable insights.”
According to the report, “[c]omplex issues such as dealing with a shortage of skilled workers and the need to train employees on new processes at speed require modern approaches. More than two-thirds of manufacturers believe that technology can be very helpful, or extremely helpful, in addressing these types of workforce challenges.”
In fact, “89%of manufacturers expect to maintain or grow employment as a result of technology adoption.” This is consistent with the “growing sense that manufacturers who can attract, retain, and upskill the right team will outperform their competitors.” Unfortunately, “46% of manufacturers say that they lack the skilled workforce to outpace the competition over the next 12 months,” making the labor shortage “the top concern for manufacturers in relation to competitiveness.”
Avoiding Technology Paralysis
If technology is one of the answers to the skilled labor shortage, then manufacturers need to be investing in new technology solutions as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes easier said than done.
Most managers have heard of “analysis paralysis,” the term used to describe a company’s inability to act effectively due to an inordinate amount of time analyzing the problems at hand. Many manufacturers are now facing a similar problem: “technology paralysis.”
According to the report, “the range of available systems and platforms is leading to ‘technology paralysis’ – an inability to decide between solutions. An organization which finds itself held back from investing in technology due to this type of decision paralysis is likely to see an impact on its ability to compete. Concern around this area is growing, with a 65% year-on-year increase in the number of participants reporting that their organization lacks the technology to outpace the competition over the next twelve months.”
How can manufacturers overcome “technology paralysis”? A good place to start is by setting aside enough money in the annual budget for new technology and training. Currently, manufacturers spend approximately 23% of their operating budget on technology.
The report advises that “[w]hatever the investment level, budgets must be set with an eye firmly on the future. Manufacturers will need to invest in areas that help to address the skills shortage, while increasing automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, in order to fully exploit the potential of technology and insights across the organization.”
It appears that many manufacturers are doing exactly that. The report concludes that “[e]ighty-four percent of respondents have adopted smart manufacturing or are actively evaluating solutions with the intention to invest in the coming year.” That’s an astounding adoption rate, which shows clearly the role these technologies play today and will continue to play in the future.
Which Skills Do Modern Manufacturing Workers Need?
Manufacturers adopting new automation technologies will need skilled workers to install, operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair these technologies. But which skills will be most essential? That depends in part on exactly which technologies manufacturers are incorporating into their businesses.
As the number of connected devices throughout manufacturing facilities grows, a variety of “once thought ‘over-hyped’ technologies that are gaining mainstream adoption today,” including:
- Industrial hardened devices (e.g., handheld scanners, tablets)
- Consumer devices (e.g., mobile phones)
- Optical quality scanners (i.e., vision systems)
- Cameras / Scanners / Drones
- Automated mobile robots and automated guided vehicles
- Smart thermostats or lighting controls
- RFID scanners
- Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality, Virtual Reality Wearables
- Choice IP-enabled tools and machines (e.g., calipers)
- Bluetooth devices (e.g., iBeacons)
- Edge gateways
“As manufacturers continue to digitize their operations,” it’s obvious that they will need skilled workers who are comfortable working with these and other cutting-edge technologies. However, they must also not minimize the importance of another set of critical skills.
“Even with the increase in technology and automation, people skills are equally – if not more – in demand. Manufacturers seek employees who can adapt to changing requirements and collaborate in teams, as shown by the prioritization of communication and teamwork as the top skills manufacturers want from the next generation of employees.”
The report notes that “so-called soft skills,” such as flexibility, engagement, initiative, and analytical thinking, ranked ahead of “knowledge of smart technology” when manufacturers were surveyed. Indeed, “[a]ll participating companies noted the critical nature of soft skills such as communication and collaboration. Even as automation makes some aspects of jobs easier and safer, in many cases, it has actually increased the number of workers or departments that collaborate or delegate, thus placing more importance on workers who can, for example, give and comprehend complex instructions.”
Let the Experts at Amatrol Help
Given the many challenges facing today’s manufacturers, it’s no wonder they’re looking to modern technology solutions to ease their burdens. As the report notes, however, even choosing technology solutions can itself become another challenge. The good news is that manufacturers don’t have to face these challenges alone. The experts at Amatrol are here to help.
With over 30 years of experience, Amatrol remains the world’s leader in technical education training systems and eLearning curriculum. If your workers need hands-on skills related to the latest smart automation technologies, Amatrol offers a variety of training solutions, including the following portable training systems:
- Smart Manufacturing Learning System (990-SM10)
Amatrol’s Smart Manufacturing Learning System was developed in partnership with CESMII – The Smart Manufacturing Institute, to answer the call for hands-on learning in Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 technologies. Combining hardware, industrial software products and solutions, and in-depth exercises, this system has been designed to educate and equip learners at all skill levels with the practical, hands-on skills they need to begin or advance their Smart Manufacturing journey. This system covers smart manufacturing principles and technologies, starting with the most basic and continuing to the advanced.
- Portable Smart Machine Sensor Learning System (990-SD10)
Amatrol’s Portable Smart Machine Sensor Learning System offers a comprehensive training device for building skills with smart capacitive sensors, inductive sensors, photo sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and more. The 990-SD10 covers topics like an introduction to IIoT, cloud computing, smart sensor configuration and condition monitoring, and smart RFID readers. Within these topics, learners will study about data analytics, IO-Link Master function and operation, configuring a variety of smart sensors, as well as practice skills like monitoring and testing a smart power supply, configuring and testing smart sensors using an IO-Link Bluetooth application, and operating an RFID system.
- Portable Smart Process Sensor Learning System (990-SD20)
Amatrol’s Portable Smart Process Sensor Learning System teaches the operation and function of a variety of smart process sensors, including smart analog pressure sensors, smart electromagnetic flow sensors, smart ultrasonic level sensors, and smart point level sensors. This system provides hands-on experience with real-world components, including an IO-Link Master, smart sensor PC software, and applications for analog flow, analog level, and hi/lo level sensing. Learners will study industry-relevant applications and learn hands-on skills that will build a strong foundation for a successful career in a variety of industries that use advanced process control technologies.
Of course, Amatrol also offers critical training in the soft skills manufacturers have identified as increasingly important as they adopt these new smart automation technologies. For example, Amatrol offers eLearning courses covering key skills, such as communication skills, working in groups, and conflict resolution.
Consult with an expert at Amatrol today to learn how you can take the first step toward teaching the skills that will set workers 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.