There’s no doubt that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is causing the manufacturing sector to evolve quickly. What is continually debated, however, is how to best tackle the challenges that arise.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently published an article describing the changes in the manufacturing sector. They explain that today “[m]ore than 40% of manufacturing workers have a college degree, up from 22% in 1991.” And in three short years, there will be more manufacturing workers with a college degree than without. This is a sharp contrast from 20 or 30 years ago when manufacturing jobs were primarily filled by workers with a high school diploma or less.
This is largely due to the emergence and convergence of disruptive technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR), robotics, automation, and increasingly powerful devices. These technologies are causing a significant shift in the skills required to be successful. Where manufacturing was once considered a dirty environment with lots of manual work, it’s now a clean environment where machines are doing most of the work managed by humans. As a result, most manufacturing jobs now require complex problem-solving skills that have historically been associated with a college degree.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could use technology on the front-line to empower workers instead of displacing them? What if manufacturing could be an inclusive environment and continue providing exciting job opportunities for everyone?
Though gravitating towards college-educated workers is one path to take as the factory floor changes, another is augmenting employees with technology. An Intelligent Personal Agent (IPA), for example, can provide workers with the guidance they need in real-time to adapt to changing workforce conditions. With this tool, workers will be provided with:
- Proactive insights based on who and where they are, and what they’re doing, and
- Engage in a conversation to receive answers to their questions.
In this way, workers would always have a digital mentor with them, receive on the job training, and be presented with upskilling and cross-skilling opportunities as they progress in their careers. From this perspective, you don’t need college degrees, you need technology on the front-line.
Let’s take the example provided by the WSJ to illustrate how this could work. They explained that “Fernando Delatorre, who operated the older machines at Pioneer for 14 years, struggled to memorize the codes used to program the new machines.” With the IPA, this wouldn’t be a problem. Mr. Delatorre would simply ask the IPA, “What’s the code to program the new machines?”, he would receive the code immediately and any follow-on instructions required for him to complete the job.
With the IPA, workers can have conversations with machines about error codes, maintenance procedures, service bulletins or past performance. The result? Workers receive contextual guidance when they need it to make them more productive and reduce rework. And more than that, they can keep their jobs as the workplace is quickly changing around them. Skilled is a state of mind, and when we provide workers with the tools necessary to be successful, they embody this.
To create a future of work that is prosperous for everyone, we should strive to have the best of both worlds. Disruptive technologies should continue to enter the manufacturing industry, making the workplace safer, and workers should be empowered with technology, not displaced by it.