Manufacturing Technology and the Workforce
With the multitude of advances in the world of manufacturing technology over the past several decades, there has been a continual concern: the fear that workers’ will ultimately be replaced by robots and other computer programs. While this has been the stuff of science fiction novels and scare tactics used by some media outlets for some time now, it’s not really the case.
A Game Changer, Not a Game Ender
While technology has definitely changed the nature of manufacturing work, jobs in the industry will continue to exist. However, to compete in the new world, companies need to be aware of how jobs are changing and what skills will be required in the future.
Automation that integrates multiple aspects of manufacturing operations isn’t new, but the digital revolution has certainly changed the game by making information and production flows far more tightly interconnected than ever before. The degree of intelligence that robotics and smart machinery has increased collaboration and made material flow visible in real time via data analytics, while the Industrial Internet of Things (IioT) has freed manufacturing from the boundaries that are created by traditional automation inside the brick and mortar walls of factories and integrated the entire supply chain, including enabling virtual tracking of capital assets, processes, and resources.
The level of transformation these changes have brought to manufacturing means that traditional approaches are no longer enough to push forward productivity and increase profits, which means that the success of the industry no longer depends upon the types of manufacturing jobs that people are used to.
New Technologies Need New Skills
An example of what these ever evolving changes mean to the manufacturing workforce: recently the US Department of Labor reported that almost 50,000 new jobs were added to the warehouse and storage sector of the industry over the last 12 months, but most of them were not the standard manual labor jobs that usually are filled by the unskilled. That said, they weren’t filled by robots or computer programs, either.
Only human beings can provide the level of flexibility and decision making capabilities required to manage ever increasing customer demand, but in the world of factory digitization and sophistication, employers are seeking a new level of skill sets in their warehousing workforce.
Employees in all levels of manufacturing must be adaptable and able to learn new technologies quickly and accurately and their levels of leadership, management skills, and ability to work in the digital age across many different functions including engineering, supply chain, and manufacturing is paramount in the new age of labor. Therefore, standard skills will no longer suffice if growth is to continue.
A Manageable Challenge
Granted, the level of change needed to meet the demands of the new digital age does present challenges. It will take time for the labor market to adjust to new demands and until the level of modern skilled problem solvers surpasses the numbers of workers trained in more traditional ways, there will potentially be a workforce shortage. However, if companies begin to shift focus and begin training current employees in new technologies on-site, the gap can be easily bridged.
The focus of the modern manufacturing age is not to bring back old model jobs-robots and computer software should be left to handle the dull, risky, and repetitive jobs they were created to fill. The new challenge to and focus for all areas of manufacturing is to take advantage of the new wave of digitization and bring new, more advanced jobs to a new, more advanced workforce.
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