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Training Tomorrow’s Workforce Starts Today

Science fiction fans have waited patiently for decades, eagerly anticipating the day when robots would take over the world. Fortunately, the “rise of the machines” predicted by the Terminator movies has not come to pass.

Humans remain in control of Earth, but robots have established a firm foothold in certain areas of our lives. Modern advanced manufacturing facilities, in particular, have welcomed robots with open arms.

As technology continues its steady advance, robots, machines, and a variety of related non-human applications, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithms, will transform workplaces into shining examples of the wonders of automation.

With this machine-driven future clearly in sight, we must begin to talk about automated manufacturing rather than advanced manufacturing. These technologies are here, and technological pioneers throughout manufacturing are already seeing impressive gains in efficiency and productivity.

Large-scale adoption of these technologies promises to create a seismic effect throughout industry, changing the manufacturing workplace forever. Whether you’re a student, worker, manager, or owner, are you ready for the workplace of tomorrow?

Today, the answer is probably not. The speed with which technology is changing has created a skills gap that’s growing by the day, leaving manufacturers with thousands of open positions requiring highly-skilled workers that simply aren’t available. A coordinated effort must begin today to address the skills gap in order to fully realize the potential of what looks like a very bright future for automated manufacturing.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

It’s no secret that the manufacturing world finds itself in the early stages of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. Following in the footsteps of steam-powered machines, assembly lines, and computers, the latest Industrial Revolution will feature significant leaps in automation as cyber-physical systems combine with the Internet of Things (IoT) to create a smart factory environment.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has spawned a wide variety of names and terms: Smart Automation, Smart Factory, Smart Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Industrial Internet, the Connected Enterprise, and Industry 4.0, to name a few. Whatever you call it, it’s the future and it holds the potential for a massive impact on industrial efficiency and productivity.

In addition to the IoT, other technologies driving the movement toward increased automation include widespread availability of high-speed mobile Internet, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cloud technology, machine learning, and augmented and virtual reality. Humans may have the upper hand right now, but the balance between humans and machines is shifting rapidly.

The Future Is Coming…Quickly

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. Those numbers are expected to change drastically over the course of the next seven years.

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!

The Future Is Still Bright for Humans

These predictions about the rise of automation might seem a bit scary at first. For the past half-century, factory workers have worried about being replaced by robots. Are their fears finally coming true? The answer is both yes and no.

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.

So, yes, some jobs will indeed be replaced by machines. However, all of those machines will bring with them a need for highly-skilled workers to install, program, and maintain them. Overall, experts expect a net growth in jobs as a result of increased automation.

For example, the World Economic Forum estimates that roughly 75 million jobs could be displaced between now and 2022. During that same time, though, advanced technologies could create as many as 133 million new jobs.

According to surveys conducted for the Future of Jobs Report 2018, nearly half of all companies expect their workforce to decline by 2022 due to increased automation. At the same time, more than 25% of companies expect automation technologies to create new jobs, and nearly 40% of companies expect a general increase in the size of their workforces.

The Skills Gap

The future of automated manufacturing certainly does appear bright. According to the recent Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), nearly 93% of manufacturers claim to be somewhat or very positive about the future.

However, a dark cloud looms on the horizon. The rise of automation technology is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it promises job creation and business growth. On the other hand, it eliminates some jobs and raises the bar for the jobs that remain, as well as those it creates.

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.

How Wide Is the Gap?

According to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), there are approximately 488,000 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.

GM’s New Workforce

The skills gap isn’t caused solely by the rise of automation technologies used by manufacturers. In some cases, it’s a factor of increased demand for new, high-tech products. That’s certainly the case for General Motors and its reaction to the advent of and increasing demand for electric vehicles.

Recently, GM CEO Mary Barra announced that the company would begin offering voluntary buyouts to North American salaried workers with 12 or more years of experience. Experts believe an increased emphasis on electric vehicles, which will require workers with different, advanced skill sets, motivated the decision.

GM’s workforce statistics would seem to confirm this view. Only about 35% of GM’s 50,000 salaried workers in North America have the seniority necessary to qualify for the buyout, because the company has been adding younger workers with technology skills in recent years. A GM spokesperson estimates that about 40% of the company’s U.S. workforce has been with the company five years or less.

For experienced workers, a future in an increasingly automated workplace making high-tech products will require a mindset open to continuous training and upgrading skills to remain an asset in the workplace.

Small Businesses Aren’t Immune

The skills gap workforce crisis might seem like a problem primarily for large companies with the resources to invest in advanced automation technologies. But that’s not necessarily the case. Small- and medium-sized businesses aren’t immune from its effects.

The vision of a pristine smart factory filled with robots producing the latest and greatest high-tech gadgets is still a bit futuristic for the overwhelming majority of manufacturers. In the U.S., manufacturing is still dominated (98%) by small- to medium-sized businesses that employ fewer than 500 people.

However, businesses of all sizes recognize the benefits of increased automation. Many simply lack the scale, time, money, and personnel to move rapidly toward the technologies of the future.

Even if a complete transformation to automated systems is a long way off, many small- and medium-sized businesses are moving forward anyway, taking whatever humble steps they can afford to reduce costs, enhance processes, increase efficiency, and thereby improve the bottom line.

Eventually, these small steps will add up, bringing even small- and medium-sized businesses into the full reality of Industry 4.0. Along the way, these businesses will be experiencing the same skills gap crisis faced by larger entities.

In some ways, the plight may be worse for smaller businesses that can’t compete effectively with larger companies when it comes to wages. A survey of approximately 400 manufacturing executives conducted by Deloitte on behalf of the Manufacturing Institute found that more than 80% of manufacturing companies are increasing wages and/or offering signing bonuses to attract and retain workers.

The Time for Training Is Now

Experts predict the existing skills gap will worsen — perhaps dramatically — with the coming seismic wave of automation sweeping across the manufacturing industry. And it will be a problem for everyone involved: students, current workers, educational institutions, and manufacturers.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018, time is of the essence. The report concludes that, “as workforce transformations accelerate, the window of opportunity for proactive management of this change is closing fast and business, government and workers must proactively plan and implement a new vision for the global labor market.”

Moreover, the problem must be addressed at multiple levels. According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, “[i]t is critical that business take an active role in supporting their existing workforces through reskilling and upskilling, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning, and that governments create an enabling environment to facilitate this workforce transformation. This is the key challenge of our time.”

Manufacturers must invest in their human capital by providing the training necessary to current workers to give them the skills they will need in an increasingly automated workplace. Workers must adopt a mentality of lifelong learning and seek opportunities to update and expand their skill sets. Educational institutions — from middle school to universities and everything in between — must find a way to teach the Industry 4.0 skills that will set up students for success. Finally, governments must help to coordinate all of these efforts with supportive policies that encourage and facilitate training efforts.

A Significant Task Ahead

The evolving reality of Industry 4.0 and the workplace disruption anticipated by the increasing use of automated systems means that the skills needed to perform many jobs will change significantly over the next 5-10 years. Adding to the need for increased training is the current near-record-low unemployment rate, which is making it nearly impossible for manufacturers to fill their open positions with qualified candidates.

According to the Future of Jobs Report 2018, at least 54% of all employees will need significant training (what the report refers to as “reskilling” or “upskilling”) by 2022. Of those requiring training, about 35% will need training lasting up to 6 months, about 9% will need training lasting between 6-12 months, and about 10% will need training lasting more than a year. The need for training will be so widespread that nearly everyone will need an extra 101 days of learning by 2022!

Manufacturers no longer have the luxury of simply making products. They must also now become learning organizations that teach their current employees the skills they need to succeed in a changing workplace. While this is a new challenge for many organizations, many are finding that investing in their employees by providing needed training creates loyalty that will help them retain those workers if recruiters come calling.

How Amatrol Can Help

Fortunately, educational institutions and manufacturers don’t need to tackle the training challenge alone. When time is of the essence, you don’t recreate the wheel. Instead, you partner with a trusted expert that can provide effective solutions quickly.

After more than three decades designing and manufacturing state-of-the-art training systems, Amatrol remains the world’s leader in skills-based, interactive technical learning for industry and education. Our comprehensive learning solutions range from introducing high school students to emerging technologies to teaching hands-on skills in the latest, highly-sophisticated smart factory systems.

Amatrol offers learning systems for a wide variety of in-demand skill sets useful throughout industry, including: power and energy, controls, manufacturing processes, design, fluids, fluid power, thermal, electrical, electrical motors, mechanical, communications, robotics, computer integrated manufacturing, mechatronics, and automation.

In addition to unparalleled customer support, what truly sets Amatrol apart is its dedication to providing comprehensive training solutions that can integrate eAssessment with in-depth multimedia eLearning curriculum and robust trainers that teach hands-on skills with real-world industrial components.

Visit Amatrol online to learn how you can leverage its technical training expertise to train tomorrow’s workforce today. Together, we can bridge the skills gap and continue to transform the global workforce one life at a time.


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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