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Are Your Students Prepared To Work in a Smart Factory?

What do you think of when you hear the words “factory job”? For many people, these words bring to mind images of masses of workers performing repetitive tasks on assembly lines in grimy environments. People with this mental image often assume that all factory jobs are low-skill jobs that don’t require much knowledge or preparation.

Workers in modern factories, however, paint a very different picture than the one just described. Today’s advanced manufacturing facilities combine the best of human ingenuity with advanced technologies that demand skilled workers operating in a clean environment.

As technologies continue to evolve at a rapid pace, manufacturers are learning how to leverage them to increase efficiency and productivity while reducing costs. Instead of replacing jobs, automation is creating new positions and an ever-growing need for more highly-skilled workers.

Administrators and instructors, particularly those involved directly with career and technical education (CTE), are thus faced with a challenge: how to prepare students for the jobs of the future. It’s clear that the factories of the future will have new roles that require different skills. Education, therefore, must evolve to meet these new demands.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Failure to align programs with the needs of the evolving workplace will produce students ill-prepared to work in these technologically-advanced factories that are springing up everywhere. If you think about how technology is changing nearly every aspect of our lives, it all makes sense.

You wouldn’t teach students interested in video technology how to operate a VHS machine. Indeed, even DVD and Blu-ray players are on their way to being obsolete. Today, we stream video on demand. We expect Netflix to recommend the next show we’ll love. And then we expect Alexa to cue up the next episode with a simple voice command.

Technology is driving similar changes in factories around the world. Just like your phone, your watch, and your home can become “smart” by adding Internet connectivity, factory equipment is now connected to the Internet to become “smart,” too. Educators need to realize that Smart Factories are already here and they need to prepare their students with the skills needed to fill the ever-increasing number of jobs in today’s workforce.

Industry 4.0

The world is in the early stages of a fourth Industrial Revolution that holds the potential for a massive impact on industrial efficiency and productivity. It goes by a variety of names and terms: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0, and Smart Factory, to name a few.

The terms work together to create a working definition of Industry 4.0, which can be described as the combination of cyber-physical systems, automation, and the IoT to create a Smart Factory environment. Imagine a factory in which robots and self-driving vehicles communicate with each other and the workers overseeing them to report on a wide variety of information, such as throughput, cycle times, mechanical breakdowns, and predictive maintenance.

The Smart Factory

Smart sensors and smart devices possess the ability to create an enormous amount of data that can be shared via cloud technology. Known as “big data,” these mountains of real-time data can be used not only to monitor current production status but also to predict future maintenance needs and even order parts in advance of when they’ll be required.

These technologies require highly-skilled workers who are specialists in big data analytics to turn all that data into useful information that can transform productivity and efficiency. Experts in computer networking and network security are also needed to ensure that a company’s data remains safe and secure.

Smart factories are not just a thing of the future. They exist now, and Industry 4.0 pioneers are leading the charge across a broad cross-section of industries, pushing competitors to use the Industrial Internet as a tool to take them to the next level. Along the way, they’re creating new roles and a growing demand for highly-skilled workers to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair smart equipment.

A Changing Workplace

According to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children now entering primary school will one day work in new types of jobs that don’t even exist right now.

Sound far-fetched? It isn’t. Deloitte’s recent survey revealed that 47% of today’s jobs could be gone in the next 10 years, including 20% of assembly jobs in manufacturing. Indeed, some experts see the future of automation coming more quickly than many people expect.

According the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018, today an average of 71% of total task hours are performed by humans, while the remaining 29% are performed by machines. By 2025, the report predicts that an average of 48% of total task hours will be performed by humans, while the remaining 52% will be performed by machines. That’s a dramatic shift toward automation in just seven years!

In-Demand Roles

With all of these changes taking place, what roles are most needed today and into the future? ManpowerGroup’s 2018 Talent Shortage Survey outlined the following 10 most in-demand roles:

1 – Skilled Trades (electricians, welders, mechanics)

2 – Sales Representatives (B2B, B2C, contact center)

3 – Engineers (chemical, electrical, civil, mechanical)

4 – Drivers (truck, delivery, construction, mass transit)

5 – Technicians (quality controllers, technical staff)

6 – IT (cybersecurity experts, network administrators, technical support)

7 – Accounting & Finance (certified accountants, auditors, financial analysts)

8 – Professionals (project managers, lawyers, researchers)

9 – Office Support (administrative assistants, PAs, receptionists)

10 – Manufacturing (production and machine operators)

This list should come as no surprise to those familiar with Industry 4.0 and the reality of the Smart Factory. Most, if not all, of these high-demand roles can be found in any advanced manufacturing facility.

A Unique Combination of Advanced Skills

To maximize the efficiency of automated systems, manufacturers need workers with a unique combination of advanced technical and technological skills to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair these systems. The advanced skills required include:

  • mechanical abilities, including assembly;
  • working knowledge of hydraulics, pneumatics, and electronic sensors;
  • electrical and mechanical print reading skills;
  • programming capabilities, especially related to programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and other software related to smart sensors and programmable controllers;
  • advanced information technology skills, such as networking and network security;
  • familiarity with robots, including the basics of robot operation and programming; and
  • broad-based knowledge and hands-on skills related to maintaining and troubleshooting the various components that make up the majority of automated systems.

How many companies already have the workers with this combination of advanced technological skills? The answer today is not nearly enough.

Opportunity Abounds

The jobs of the future are increasingly technology-driven and highly-skilled. Unfortunately, current and future demand far exceeds supply, creating what is now commonly known as the “skills gap.” Without enough highly-skilled workers, manufacturers are unlikely to realize the full potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), there are approximately 493,000 open manufacturing jobs in the United States currently. The number of unfilled manufacturing jobs is expected to continue to rise in coming years.

For example, a study conducted by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute estimates that, over the next decade, almost 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled. However, because of the skills gap, as many as 2.4 million — more than half! — of those jobs could go unfilled.

These numbers are why NAM’s most recent Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey revealed that 73 percent of manufacturers identify the skills gap as their top concern when looking toward an otherwise-bright future. Indeed, nearly 80% of manufacturers are already experiencing a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly-skilled positions.

The impending workforce crisis created by the skills gap can’t be overstated. Nearly half of manufacturers cite the skills gap as the primary threat facing their businesses today, and over a quarter of them claim it has forced them to decline new business opportunities. The skills gap affects all industries, and it affects big and small companies alike.

The Future Is Bright for Today’s Students

According to the World Economic Forum, the rapid increase of automation will transform the workforce of the future in two parallel, interconnected ways: (1) a large-scale reduction in certain jobs as they become automated and/or redundant; and (2) a large-scale increase in new jobs necessitated by the adoption of various advanced technologies.

This is great news for today’s students, but it’s also a wake-up call for administrators and CTE teachers. Students need to be prepared to graduate with the skills needed for success in the modern Smart Factory. Are your students prepared to work in a Smart Factory?

If your answer is “no,” don’t be discouraged. Very few schools are currently teaching this unique combination of skills. But the need is clear, and the time is now. So how do you get your students ready for the manufacturing careers of the future? Amatrol is here to help.

I4F — Industry 4.0 Fundamentals

The experts at Amatrol have created a program designed to introduce students to Industry 4.0 technologies and skills to prepare them for exciting, high-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing. Developed by industry and subject-matter experts, Amatrol’s Industry 4.0 Fundamentals (I4F) program combines in-depth multimedia curriculum with hands-on, industrial-quality equipment and virtual trainers to provide schools with the tools they need to prepare their students for Industry 4.0 jobs.

Amatrol’s I4F program consists of four courses:

  • Introduction to Mechatronics
    • Topics include: mechanical drives, fluid power, AC/DC electricity, electrical relay control, electronic sensors, and robotics programming.
  • Introduction to Industrial Control Systems
    • Topics include: hydraulics, pneumatics, programmable controllers, Ethernet network communications, CNC programming, and mechatronics systems.
  • Industrial Robot Operations and Programming
    • Topics include: robot operation, programming, end of arm tooling, safety, teach pendants, coordinate systems, data registers, and file manipulation.
  • Introduction to the Industrial Internet of Things
    • Topics include: data analytics, variable frequency drives, bar code and RFID product identification, system optimization, and PLC troubleshooting.

Industry 4.0 Learning — Anytime, Anywhere

Amatrol’s curriculum features a highly-interactive, multimedia format that brings Industry 4.0 topics to life. Using stunning 3D graphics and videos, voiceovers of all text, and interactive quizzes and exercises, Amatrol’s in-depth curriculum is designed to appeal to learners with different learning styles.

Available via Amatrol’s online Learning Management System (LMS), students can access eLearning courses anytime, anywhere, allowing unlimited flexibility for both students and teachers. Utilizing Amatrol’s virtual trainers contained within the curriculum also enables students to simulate hands-on activities even when they don’t have access to physical equipment.

Hands-On Skills with Real-World Equipment

To prepare students for Industry 4.0 careers, educators must teach skills in a variety of areas, including industrial equipment and technology, smart sensors and smart devices, computerized control systems, network security, and data collection and analysis. Experience with real-world equipment will be critical to building the skills students will need to be job-ready.

Amatrol’s I4F program features a wide variety of training equipment that consists of real-world components that students will encounter on the job. In addition to Amatrol’s robust Tabletop Mechatronics Learning System, students will get hands-on experience with many other systems, including AC/DC electrical, electrical control, pneumatics, hydraulics, PLC troubleshooting, electronic sensor, and robotics training systems.

To ensure that students are mastering the skills being taught, instructors will test them on a wide variety of competencies using the unique Skill Boss Maintenance performance-based assessment tool. The Skill Boss Maintenance features an electric motor, variable frequency drive, human-machine interface, pneumatic pick-and-place module, and more. It’s also used as a key component by students seeking Certified Production Technician Plus (CPT+) certification from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC).

For more information about how Amatrol’s I4F program can help your school prepare its students for the jobs of tomorrow, contact your Amatrol representative today. You can also visit Amatrol online to learn more about the I4F program.

About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.


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