Posted on 7/11/2018

Ensuring Workforce Readiness in the Era of Industry 4.0

Jack Van Tiem

Step into a corporate boardroom or onto a shop floor, and you’re likely to hear the word “teamwork” uttered by leadership. Leveraging diversity of thought and skills to find smart solutions may not be a new concept, but it has increasingly become a necessary approach for employers and employees in today’s time-challenged business landscape.

Industry 4.0, the new generation of automation, information flow and data exchange in manufacturing, which comprises everything from the Internet of things to cloud computing, is having a major impact on job creation and elimination, business cost structures, processes and cultures. 

Connected technology in manufacturing has opened the floodgates of innovation, increased global trade and information sharing. This new paradigm demands employers think in terms of constant innovation supported by workforces of multi-dimensional employees. Here in Michigan, the digital revolution has employers facing a serious skills gap with their workforce that will require a level of teamwork to solve what we haven’t seen in some time.

Therein lies the rub. In many businesses, siloes have ruled for decades. Workers locked into single skillset occupations have been the norm. Faced with ever-increasing pressure to keep up with orders, new and different types of work, and global and domestic competition, manufacturers are encountering a critical shortage of employees with the skills needed to perform jobs in this new manufacturing environment.  

Original equipment manufacturers want their supply chain partners to understand the opportunities and challenges of Industry 4.0 and its impact on their business to ensure every link in the supply chain is equally strong. The reality is that most companies are ill-equipped and under resourced in their ability to respond; and don’t yet fully understand what’s on the horizon related to Industry 4.0.

Advances in Technology are Leaving Workforces Behind

Automation Alley is working hard to support manufacturers through this transformation. As part of that effort, it’s also tracking the “skills gap” that is preventing companies from adopting advanced technologies that will help make the region’s economy more robust. Rapid advancements in technology threaten to leave workforces behind if some manufacturers lack the resources to adopt this new way of work. Businesses, education systems and workers all need to be on the same page.

As I noted in a recent op-ed, in the past, there were often enough jobs that merely required a willingness to work. But due to automation, there simply aren’t as many “unskilled” jobs available. As new technologies have been adopted in the workplace, the technical skills of job seekers have fallen behind. Looking at our existing and future workforce, they may not have the skills needed to succeed in a high-tech manufacturing environment. The skills gap will only get worse if not addressed.

While technical skills remain critical to many manufacturing positions, there’s a concurrent rise in the demand for workers with soft skills that involve a willingness to learn, collaborate and problem solve as a team. In a survey conducted with 1,000 hiring managers, Kelly Services found that hard and soft skills carry almost the same weight among hiring managers evaluating candidates. Clearly, some employers realize that their success can only be achieved when every team member, regardless of position, is thinking, improving and innovating together.

Alignment and Collaboration: Keys to Success

Employers need to rethink the roles that people play within their organization, and how to build a talent pipeline of future workers who are prepared for this transformation. In addition, they need to find ways to “upskill” existing workers who can make the transition and help them successfully integrate technology into their business.

Given this new workplace reality and the shortage of talent with the necessary skills, how do we solve this problem? It’s going to take teamwork. An ongoing alignment of education and industry must occur and all stakeholders must know the requirements to succeed.

Community colleges play a critical role in the partnerships being formed with manufacturers. For future workers to be 'job ready' and to upskill existing workers, there needs to be a shift in curriculums and students must be educated differently. There is a tremendous resource in our community college network. It’s time we fully tap into it to help solve the skills gap created by advanced manufacturing.

Employers need to understand how Industry 4.0 impacts their current products and services. A thorough evaluation of their workforce will identify skills gaps. Proactive employers should reach out to community colleges, define the skills their workforce needs and work with educators to upskill existing employees and ensure future workers have the necessary skills that Industry 4.0 requires. Employers also need to understand the current landscape of potential candidates who have the technical and interpersonal skills needed to hit the ground running in the 4.0-world and beyond.

The new reality of Industry 4.0 and what it demands from every stakeholder requires we all think, behave and act with innovative and collaborative mindsets. I’m convinced it can be a smoother transition for all manufactures if we take on this challenge as a team.

About the Author

Jack Van Tiem | Kelly Services, Inc.

Jack Van Tiem is the Detroit Territory Vice President for Kelly Services, a global leader in providing workforce solutions. He oversees the staffing and business solutions operations throughout metro Detroit, with a focus on staffing for automotive, manufacturing, retail, financial services, and technology. He is also a member of Automation Alley’s Board of Directors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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