A new report from The Manufacturing Institute – the workforce and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers – and PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that increased automation in manufacturing may come with significant opportunities for workers in the industry.
The report – “Navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution to the Bottom Line” – examines the ways that systemic changes are impacting the manufacturing industry, from the expansion of robotics to an increased interest in developing connected products. While manufacturers recognize the potential value of advanced technologies – including robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things, cloud computing, advanced analytics, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality – the prospect of integrating these new innovations with existing processes has raised questions.
The new report suggests automation may have a significant positive impact for people interested in the manufacturing industry – an increased need for talent to manage in a more automated, flexible production environment and new jobs for workers who can engineer robotics and their operating systems, to name a few opportunities. Rather than taking jobs away from workers, the report’s survey finds that most manufacturers see automation as reinforcing the need for distinctly human abilities.
“This technological shift is moving manufacturers rapidly toward jobs that require irreplaceable human skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, design, innovation, engineering and finance,” said Chad Moutray, Director of The Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research. “Machines need workers to program, operate and maintain them, and today automation often works alongside workers, especially in the performance of monotonous tasks, which helps free workers to shift their focus to more interesting ones.”
Some of that work will come from existing employees. In fact, the report suggests that most manufacturers are planning to upskill and reskill their current employees on using and managing new technologies. In addition, manufacturers see a need to expand their workforce to include new employees – in part, by identifying and recruiting talented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students, and by providing outside training at community colleges and through technology vendors in order to prepare potential new workers for roles in modern manufacturing.
“According to the World Economic Forum, we could create 133 million jobs by 2022 if workers are given significant reskilling and the next generation of workers is trained properly,” said Moutray. “Technological change can be a plus for manufacturing workers if we undertake the right approach now.”
All told, about 70 percent of manufacturers say the biggest impact of robotics on the workforce over the next five years will be the increased need for talent to manage in a more automated environment, and for new workers fill important jobs. The Manufacturing Institute has become the leading industry voice in Washington calling for workforce and education policies that bridge the skills gap, and it has a number of programs aimed toward supporting the manufacturing workforce of today and growing the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow.
“Technology isn’t a threat – technology is an enabler,” said Moutray. “It’s actually helping us do our jobs, helping us get to where we need to go, and then enabling that next generation.”
In September 2018, the National Association of Manufacturers acquired the Manufacturing Leadership Council, an association for manufacturing executives that is dedicated to helping the industry transition to the digital era. Nearly one year later, the MLC wraps up its 15th Anniversary Manufacturing Leadership Summit and continues to provide its members with programs and services around digitization.
MLC’s Co-Founder, Vice President and Executive Director David R. Brousell shares the groundbreaking work of the organization and why it matters to manufacturers today.
What is the Manufacturing Leadership Council?
The MLC is designed to help senior manufacturing executives and emerging leaders define and shape a better future for themselves, their organizations and the industry at large by focusing on the intersection of critical business and technology issues that will drive growth today and in the future. We do live events like conferences; we do plant tours that enable members to see firsthand how different companies are implementing the latest digital technologies; and we publish in-depth articles that focus on best practices and cutting-edge ideas on the use of technologies and the leadership requirements of the digital age.
How is leadership changing in the digital age?
It’s changing in some very important ways. There’s a whole new layer of competency that has to be added to the traditional functions of leadership. We call this “digital acumen,” which has to do with understanding the potential of advanced technologies like analytics, artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, 3D printing and other technologies. It’s not just improving efficiencies, but also offering new business models, ways of doing things and services.
This new era in manufacturing requires leaders to manage organizations that are flatter and more collaborative, with more and more employees having the benefit of information at their fingertips. Managing in prior years was around a top-down structure. That doesn’t cut it in the digital age.
What benefit do companies get from being a part of this group?
The MLC presents the opportunity to be part of a community that is collectively sharing ideas, insights and best practices to as the industry continues its radical transition. The truth is, you can’t do this alone as a company. You can’t make this transition to the digital era by yourself. You need to be with other companies, to learn from them, to learn what’s possible, to see what works and what may not work well in your company and to form that bond. It’s a tremendous learning experience.
What does the future look like for manufacturing—and how does the Manufacturing Leadership Council fit in?
The future looks very, very bright for manufacturing. We’re going to increase efficiency and produce products that satisfy personalized needs—everything from cars to medicine. We’re going to be able to have better quality and create jobs that are fulfilling, exciting and intellectually stimulating. The extent of innovation happening right now in manufacturing is mind-blowing.
But this is not an easy transition. The future offers tremendous opportunities, but only if we make the transition industry-wide. If we’re able to do that, not only will individual companies be more successful globally, but the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole will continue to lead the world. There’s a lot at stake for manufacturers. That’s why the partnership between the Manufacturing Leadership Council and the NAM is so important.