As manufacturing gets smarter with Industry 4.0 and the ever-expanding Industrial Internet of Things, the workforce skills needed to deploy new technology are falling behind. Baby Boomers are retiring and taking their decades worth of experience out the door, while the newly graduated engineers are not prepared for the brave new world of smart plants.
Industry leaders addressed this challenge at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show in Anaheim this week during a session called, “No Worker Left Behind: Optimal Integration of Industrial IoT with the Human Work Force.” The looming problem, according to the presenters, is that there is simply not enough skilled talent to run advanced plant technology. “We’ve been lucky that we have large research organizations with a focus on manufacturing technology, but it’s not scalable,” said Julian Keith Loren, director of external engagement and solutions at GE Software. “You can draw on it for the first few plants, but it doesn’t scale for 500 factories. It’s a real challenge. How do we get the right people and scale?”
Filling the Skills Gap
The skills-gap problem is accelerating with the retirement of Baby-Boomer engineers who are reaching retirement age. They’re taking their accumulated technical expertise out the door when they leave. “The knowledge is in the head of our senior engineer and they’ve soon to retire,” said Loren. “The skills and tribal knowledge is going out the door and we have to have those skills coming in.”
The skills deficit was intensified by lay-offs during the economic downturn a few years ago. “During the recession, a lot of plant-level people with skills were let go, so the skills-gap increased,” said Paul Heine, strategic business development at SICK Inc. “The people who filled that gap were the system integrators, coming in from outside.”
Another way to deal with the skills gap is to create technology that requires less from its users. “The development of plug-and-play technology always needs to be there. Initially we made one product. Now we have to make two products, one for the uneducated user and one for the super user,” said Heine. “The dynamics for these products are changing. We have to understand what type of education is required to use our products.”
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