Last month, Tulip’s CEO, Natan Linder, attended the World Economic Forum’s Meeting of the Champions to receive the “Technology Pioneer” award and participate on a panel titled “Enabling the Production Workforce of the Future.” One of the topics the panel touched upon was the rise of knowledge workers in manufacturing and the associated skills gap in the industry. This is a topic we care deeply about at Tulip, as we see it as one of the main drivers of the manufacturing industry’s adoption of our platform.

Natan Linder speaking at World Economic Forum

Knowledge Work vs Manual Work

The idea of “Knowledge Work” comes from famed management guru Peter Drucker, who in 1992 published an influential essay in the Harvard Business Review.

“Every few hundred years throughout western history a sharp transformation has occurred”, he wrote. For Drucker, the new age of our generation was marked, above all else, by one dominant factor: “the shift to a knowledge society.”

In the knowledge society, there are three types of workers: manual workers, who use their muscles to add value; knowledge workers, who use mostly their brains, and technologists, who use both their muscles and their brains.

The shift of manufacturing workers toward knowledge workers

Historically, manufacturing has been treated as the epitome of manual work, and until recently, this was an accurate view.

However, recent changes on the shop floor are increasingly turning the manufacturing workforce into Drucker’s “Technologists” rather than strictly manual workers.

There are several forces behind this transformation:

First, the rise of automation requires manufacturing workers to gain new skills to manage the new technologies and successfully deal with more complex interfaces and machinery.

Second, as robots take over the factory line, workers are expected to perform high-skill tasks too complex for machines to execute, such as complex assemblies, management, and process improvements.

Lastly, the rise of management paradigms such as Lean Manufacturing requires factory workers to go beyond manual tasks to think critically about their work and actively improve their operations.

Knowledge workers and the skills gap

This shift from a manual workforce to a knowledge workforce explains why there is a growing skills gap in manufacturing.

According to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, there will be 2M manufacturing jobs left unfilled in the US thanks to the skills gap, and other countries are facing similar challenges.

The problem is too complex for a silver bullet solution.

Rather, like all complex systems, it requires a multi-pronged approach encompassing making the industry more attractive to the new generation of manufacturers and providing better training.

However, it also requires organizations to re-think the tools they are making available for their people.

New challenges demand new tools

In his writings about the rise of Knowledge Workers, Drucker recognized that new tools such as the personal computer would assist workers in the transition to a knowledge economy by helping them access, store, organize and share information.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine how knowledge workers would be able to perform their jobs without computers, access to the internet, or even smartphones.

And yet, this is precisely what we expect the manufacturing workforce to do.

If you visit a factory, you’ll be surprised by the stark contrast with the workspaces of other industries.

Whereas other industries are highly digital, manufacturing is still analog.

Save for robots and machinery, the operations are still run with pen and paper, and data is collected with stopwatches and clipboards.

At Tulip, we’re working to change this.

Empowering the manufacturing workforce

Our frontline operations platform empowers the manufacturing workforce with the digital tools they need in order to gain the skills they need to improve the productivity, quality, and efficiency of their operations.

Fortunately, some of the world’s leading organizations have begun to take note and are already using our platform to run their factories.

Just like we don’t expect knowledge and technologist workers in other industries to perform their jobs without the right digital tools, organizations shouldn’t expect their people to perform increasingly complex tasks, with the same old tools.

Drucker said that increasing the productivity of knowledge workers is “the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century.” At Tulip, we are proud to be building a platform that helps manufacturing leaders achieve this important contribution.