The Advanced Manufacturing Workforce – A competency transformation

The full benefit of integrating advanced Industry 4.0 technologies into manufacturing processes requires the right human skills and a motivated workforce. While the new manufacturing paradigm is projected to create a whole new range of possibilities, it depends upon a workforce transformation that is one of the main challenges of Industry 4.0.

Increasing automation will force a shift in the employee skill-set. Initially some low-skill jobs will be lost, particularly those with repetitive tasks, others however, will be reconfigured. In the long-term, employment is projected to rise; and people with skills overlapping the domains of engineering, IT and software development will benefit most. Leaders need to consider the changing nature of work, and organisations need to provide environments that expand the skill-set and capabilities of existing employees through continuous, on-the-job education and training. An ongoing investment in upskilling the workforce will help address challenges and fears about job losses through automation.

Key recommendations:

  • Find the Champion: Develop an employee-led transformation culture
  • Collaborate with the workforce: Identify opportunities and reconfigure
    processes with employees
  • Life-long learning Provide workplace training, education and
    experimentation – including time to fail.
Activity: Mapping advanced manufacturing opportunities over existing organisational workflow.
Activity: Mapping advanced manufacturing opportunities over existing
organisational workflow.

A foundation for successful adoption and application of advanced technology can be achieved through early engagement with employees. Collaborative activities can investigate current organisational workflows to identify opportunities for the use of advanced manufacturing equipment. For example, points in the workflow that are resource intensive, time consuming, hazardous, or difficult to achieve with existing methods. They could also be processes where advanced manufacturing equipment would expand the capabilities of the organisation. These approaches allow organisations to identify what technology should be adopted and how. It is important to consider if there is enough work [for the technology] in the process and what resources would be required for implementation to be successful. Having employees as key participants in this transformation is critical as their expert, and often tacit knowledge informs what advanced manufacturing technologies would be appropriate and useful uptake into their processes.

By adopting a collaborative approach, organisations provide their employees with opportunities to learn more about the capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies and how they can allow for transformative approaches within their workflow. This kind of engagement and communication increases valuable cross-department awareness and opens up the opportunity for employee-led transformation – a key driver of successful industrial transformation.

As the transformation continues, this internal value should be supported and built upon with long-term strategies that include ongoing training and education. To accommodate different generations, skill-levels and learning styles, a variety of training approaches should be considered – formal versus informal, onsite versus offsite, for example. Collaborative activities such as the workflow mapping discussed above, are approachable methods that can be organised in-house or supported through partnerships with research institutions or government vocational education training. If opportunity allows, it is recommended that organisations consider both practice and applied use; ‘time on the tool’, for exploration and experimentation with the technology, understanding its limitations and learning from failures, will increase employee self-efficacy; actually applying the technology to projects will demonstrate confidence in the workforce.

More resources