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.”