Employee Training to Fill the Industry 4.0 Skills Gap

Despite dire predictions, automation has not replaced humans in manufacturing. Science-fiction visions of factories run by autonomous, intelligent machines may captivate the imagination, but they don’t reflect the reality of the shop floor. In the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution, humans have never been more important to manufacturing.

Even so, factories are changing at an unprecedented rate. New technologies–from wearable sensors to IIoT integration to advanced data analytics–are deployed in factories each day, and workers are expected to adapt, quickly. Experts expect this trajectory to continue. According to the Boston Consulting Group, as “the number of physically demanding or routine jobs decrease[s]… the number of jobs requiring flexible responses, problem-solving, and customization will increase.“ This means that learning and mastering new tools and technologies is now part of a manufacturer’s basic job description.

There’s good news, however. The same technologies responsible for the increasing complexity of manufacturing are improving job training. Augmented reality, manufacturing apps, and IoT connectivity are each making training programs more customizable and effective. These technologies are reducing onboarding times, simplifying re-skilling, and closing the skills gap.

Learning a job is no longer just something one does in school or during an apprenticeship. Succeeding in manufacturing now requires life-long training and the right educational systems. The companies that thrive in this new age will be those that ensure their people have the training they need to excel.

Why is enhanced job training important for Industry 4.0?

Broadly speaking, Industry 4.0 refers to a suite of advanced technologies transforming the manufacturing sector. While the list of technologies contributing to the advent of industry 4.0 is long, they are powered by the convergence of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, ubiquitous internet connectivity between people and objects, new interfaces between the human body and machines, and the capacity to collect and utilize massive data sets.

These technologies have changed the place of people in manufacturing. For much of the last two centuries, humans used machines to complete repetitive actions without much latitude for choice and without much variability in tasks. Before Industry 4.0, an operator could learn a few factory processes and successfully complete her job for years without significant retraining.

Industry 4.0 has changed this in two significant ways. First, the tasks left to humans are now more complex. Automation has scooped up all of the low-hanging fruit, and the tasks still completed by humans are those too variable or intricate to be performed by machines. Further, current trends in manufacturing like high-mix assemblies, short product cycles, and stringent regulatory requirements place a greater physical and cognitive burden on factory workers. If new technology has made manufacturers’ lives better, it hasn’t necessarily made them easier. Second, new technologies are being introduced at such a rapid rate that existing skill sets are becoming obsolete in roughly 2.5 years. With new technological solutions flooding the shop floor, employers need to ensure that their workers have the support and resources they need to stay abreast of the changes in their manufacturing environment.

How Industry 4.0 is changing the way we train manufacturers

The same technologies responsible for increasing the complexity of manufacturing work are the same ones simplifying it. Indeed, one of the most important use cases of Industry 4.0 technology has been employee training.

To date, training programs have been inefficient. They required diverting resources away from production, often relying on a “training buddy” taking time off of production to guide new recruits through the learning process. Older training methods lacked mechanisms to gauge retention. Without cycle time data, it was difficult to see if training initiatives resulted in improved efficiency. Without step-time data, it wasn't easy to see just where in a multi-step process an operator struggled. In short, manufacturing training was ripe for disruption.

Industry 4.0 training devices revolutionize training precisely because they excel where older methods fell short. They let employees self-guide their way through new processes, protecting precious resources; they collect data on trainee progress in real-time, allowing for continuous improvement; and they offer media-rich instructions customizable for every new task. For example:

  • New interfaces guide employees through tailored modules with images, video, audio, and feedback integrated into the process.
  • IIoT-connected devices (cameras, scales, barcode scanners) let workers check their work as they learn.
  • Real-time data empowers supervisors with customized, data-driven feedback for their employees, allowing organizations to implement a “deep practice” approach and making the entire learning process more efficient.
  • Manufacturing Apps let engineers design customized training applications for their specific outputs.
  • Wearable sensors track employee movements, helping them learn faster and find new places for process optimization.
  • Augmented reality (AR) glasses and displays immerse workers in their training.

Why it’s critical manufacturers invest in Industry 4.0 training

According to Industry Week, workers are central to any digital transformation, and the best manufacturers amplify theirs with a three-pronged people strategy: Retain, Retrain Recruit.

They incentivize their established employees to stay on, retrain them as their operations evolve, and proactively recruit new employees capable of functioning in the modern connected factory.

Retraining is essential for an industry 4.0 transformation. Due to the added complexity of Industry 4.0 technologies and workflows, manufacturers will naturally experience speed bumps as factories deploy new tools. Employers must cross-train workers so they can function across multiple skills and lines. Versatile employees make it easier to allocate workers where they need to be (at bottlenecks) and prevent slowdowns in production in the event of retirement or illness. Better yet, cross-trained employees who can rotate to new tasks at regular intervals are more likely to stay engaged and less likely to make mistakes. Having an agile, adaptable workforce is critical to overcoming the challenges inherent to an Industry 4.0 transformation.

With seasoned career workers retiring at a rapid rate, it’s more important than ever that manufacturers have their eye on training and work with their employees to convert individual knowledge into organizational knowledge before it’s too late.

Business advantages to an Industry 4.0-ready workforce

From a purely business perspective, it’s worth investing in the continuous reskilling of employees. Well-trained employees are less likely to make mistakes, more likely to be productive, and less likely to violate compliance laws. Skilled employees can step into new tasks and assist recruits. They can help the business speed the time to market new products. And research has shown that employees, particularly Millenials, who believe their employer is invested in their development stay at their company longer and are more productive in the long run.

A widely, deeply skilled workforce can respond to change faster, and if Industry 4.0 promises anything, it’s changed.

Ultimately, reskilling initiatives should be a fundamental feature of the symbiosis between a company and its people. Now more than ever, manufacturers are responsible for keeping their people competitive and capable in a quickly changing world.

With the right training programs, manufacturers can have the best of both worlds: resilient employees prepared to thrive in a changing world and employees who produce more value in the long term.

Tulip manufacturing apps make it easier than ever to train and re-skill shop floor associates. Media-rich, interactive apps guide learners through tasks, leading to shorter training times and better information retention. If you’re interested in how Tulip can help you maximize your Industry 4.0 training program, sign up for a free trial today.