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When asked what the future of manufacturing looks like in the next year, industry leaders reportedly exclaimed, “How in the world would we know? We don’t have 2020 vision!” OK, maybe no one said that, but wouldn’t it have been awesome if they did?

Bad puns aside, the future of manufacturing looks bright. As Industry 4.0 technologies continue to transform the workplace of the future, significant challenges remain, including a still-widening skills gap. However, there are many reasons to be optimistic about manufacturing in 2020 and beyond.

For example, public perceptions of manufacturing are beginning to improve. More students than ever are pursuing technical training programs. Educators are also forming partnerships with local industries to bring needed focus to career and technical education (CTE) programs.

As these trends continue to gain momentum in the coming years, manufacturers will bridge the skills gap and realize the gains in productivity and efficiency promised by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Along the way, Amatrol will continue to support the efforts of educators and industries to equip workers with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the jobs of the future.

The Influence of Industry 4.0 Continues To Grow

Most people familiar with modern advanced manufacturing are already quite familiar with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also commonly known as Industry 4.0. If you’re not yet aware of Industry 4.0, check out these Amatrol resources to get up to speed quickly:

What Is Industry 4.0?

How Does Industry 4.0 Affect My Job? The Truth Behind Smart Automation

According to Deloitte’s “The Future of Work in Manufacturing,” Industry 4.0 technologies transforming the workplace include “artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and cognitive automation, advanced analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

These technologies hold the key to exponential growth in efficiency and productivity. As they are implemented, today’s advanced manufacturing facilities will become the “Smart Factories” of the future.

As noted in the 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study, more than half of all manufacturers have made investments in advanced automation technologies, such as “robots, cobots, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.” These investments are expected to increase in coming years.

According to a recent Forbes article, “[b]y next year, it is expected that the manufacturing industry will invest more than $70 billion in IIoT [Industrial Internet of Things technologies], with nearly 1 billion devices and sensors installed.”

In fact, early adopters are already reaping the benefits of Industry 4.0. As the 2019 Deloitte and MAPI Smart Factory Study concludes: “the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be delivered through smart factory initiatives, and smart factories are beginning to pay off for early adopters.”

These advances are not without their challenges, however. All these new technologies require highly-skilled workers to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair them, thereby “creating a mismatch between available workers and the skills necessary for open jobs,” according to Deloitte.

The Skills Gap Remains a Serious Problem

This mismatch between available workers and the advanced technical skills necessary in the modern Smart Factory has been dubbed the “skills gap.” It’s a widely-publicized problem that’s been around for a while now. Unfortunately, it may continue to get worse before it gets better.

According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) report, there were 477,000 open manufacturing jobs as of the end of October 2019. That’s a lot of open manufacturing jobs.

Could it really get worse? According to the 2018 Deloitte Skills Gap Study, more than 2.4 million open manufacturing jobs could go unfilled over the next decade because of the skills gap.

Indeed, the 2019 National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey revealed that “the inability to attract and retain workers remained respondents’ top concern for the eighth consecutive survey.”

Three Reasons for Optimism in 2020

Despite the challenges posed by the skills gap, there are several reasons for manufacturers to be optimistic in 2020 and beyond:

Public Perceptions of Manufacturing Are Improving

One of the hurdles manufacturing continues to face as it tries to attract more highly-skilled workers is its ongoing image problem. Too many people maintain a false perception of manufacturing jobs as dirty, grungy, low-skilled, menial work for the under-educated.

The truth found in today’s modern advanced manufacturing facilities, though, is the exact opposite. According to a recent Manufacturing Lounge article, “manufacturers of today are innovators, creators, designers and critical thinkers…[but] [m]any people’s perception of manufacturing is so misguided by preconceived notions that they can’t see the incredible opportunities that come with an education and career in manufacturing.”

Advanced Industry 4.0 technologies require clean, high-tech environments. Moreover, working with these technologies is quite challenging, requiring advanced technical skills. For anyone with an outdated view of manufacturing, just take a tour of a local advanced manufacturing facility to see the changes that technology has brought.

Fortunately, manufacturers have been working on improving their image for years now. For example, thousands of manufacturers participate each year in NAM and the Manufacturing Institute’s Manufacturing Day events. Their efforts appear to be paying off.

According to the L2L 2019 Manufacturing Index, “adults in Generation Z (those aged 18-22) are 19 percent more likely to have had a counselor, teacher, or mentor suggest they look into manufacturing as a viable career option.” The result? “Gen Z is intrigued by careers in manufacturing. They are 7 percent more likely to consider working in the manufacturing industry and 12 percent less likely to view the manufacturing industry as being in decline.”

More Students Are Pursuing Technical Training

Manufacturers focused on bridging the skills gap know that filling a pipeline of highly-skilled workers begins with getting enough students to pursue the technical skills manufacturers need so desperately. Recent research shows that pipeline is now beginning to fill.

According to a recent PriceWeber article, a dramatic shift has taken place over the past decade “in the perceived value of traditional liberal arts education.” According to author Mel Bryant, “the affordability of trade schools” and “the strong job-placement programs that many trade schools offer providing a faster return-on-investment” have had an impact. “Increasing numbers of students graduating from high school are setting their sights on pursuing technical training.”

Partnerships between Education and Industry Are Increasing

In addition to more students entering the pipeline, manufacturers need students exiting the pipeline prepared to work in Industry 4.0 jobs. As Mel Bryant notes, “Today more than ever, the student leaving the campus for the workplace needs more than just the traditional skills to meet the evolving needs of employers…Clearly, a significant realignment between the skillsets that college is teaching and the skillsets required in the workplace is needed.”

How can educators best align their curricula with the needs of manufacturers? “More and more corporations are getting involved in helping colleges and universities design curricula and alternative credentialing programs to help place students in desirable jobs,” writes Bryant.

According to a recent Brookings report titled “The Role of Employers in Addressing the Skills Gap,” “[e]mployers and educators have different strengths with respect to preparing individuals for the workforce. By working together, they can help create viable pathways that benefit employees, employers, and the wider community.”

As educators and industry leaders seek mutually-beneficial partnerships, students will benefit by obtaining the skills they need to succeed. Amatrol recently published a helpful guide outlining how employers can help educators develop the future workers they need: CTE Partners: How Can Employers Help Educators Develop Relevant Career and Technical Education Programs?

What Skills Will Manufacturers Need Most in 2020 and Beyond?

As we look forward to manufacturing in 2020 and beyond, what skills will manufacturers need most? According to the 2018 Deloitte Skills Gap Study, the top five skill sets that will increase in demand as a result of advanced technologies and automation are:

  • technology/computer skills
  • digital skills
  • programming skills for robots/automation
  • working with tools and technology
  • critical thinking skills

It’s impossible to miss the clear trend of future jobs: technology skills are in high demand now and will be even more important in the future. These skills will be especially helpful for those who pursue the jobs experts predict will be the most popular in coming years.

ManpowerGroup’s 2018 Talent Shortage Survey outlined the following 10 most in-demand roles of the future:

  • skilled trades (electricians, welders, mechanics)
  • sales representatives (B2B, B2C, contact center)
  • engineers (chemical, electrical, civil, mechanical)
  • drivers (truck, delivery, construction, mass transit)
  • technicians (quality controllers, technical staff)
  • IT (cybersecurity experts, network administrators, technical support)
  • accounting & finance (certified accountants, auditors, financial analysts)
  • professionals (project managers, lawyers, researchers)
  • office support (administrative assistants, PAs, receptionists)
  • manufacturing (production and machine operators)

This list should come as no surprise to those familiar with Industry 4.0. Most, if not all, of these high-demand roles can be found in any advanced manufacturing facility.

Of course, as advanced manufacturing facilities continue to transition to Industry 4.0 technologies, entirely new roles will also be created. For example, Deloitte’s “The Future of Work in Manufacturing” report identified a variety of anticipated new roles, including:

  • digital twin engineers
  • predictive supply network analysts
  • robot teaming coordinators
  • digital offering managers
  • drone data coordinators
  • smart factory managers
  • smart schedulers

But as humans increasingly work on, with, and alongside machines, uniquely human skills (known as “soft skills”) will also become even more important. Some of those important soft skills include things like communication, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, relationship building, and people management.

Future workers will need to possess a mixture of both hard (technical) skills and soft skills to succeed. They must also embrace a willingness to continue to learn throughout their lifetimes, because technologies will continue to advance and require workers to adapt to changes.

These trends in future skills present a unique challenge for educators. Although traditional college enrollment is down and the number of students pursuing technical training is increasing, don’t be fooled into thinking that the jobs of the future somehow require less education.

In fact, the exact opposite is true. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more education, but it’s a different type of education focused more intently on developing the technical skills future workers will need in a Smart Factory environment.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted this trend toward more educated workers throughout manufacturing:

“College-educated workers are taking over the American factory floor. New manufacturing jobs that require more advanced skills are driving up the education level of factory workers who in past generations could get by without higher education, an analysis of federal data by The Wall Street Journal found. Within the next three years, American manufacturers are, for the first time, on track to employ more college graduates than workers with a high-school education or less, part of a shift toward automation that has increased factory output, opened the door to more women and reduced prospects for lower-skilled workers.”

How Can Amatrol Help?

Amatrol has been a trusted technical training partner of both industry and education for more than 30 years. What truly sets Amatrol apart is its dedication to providing comprehensive training solutions that can integrate in-depth multimedia eLearning curriculum with robust trainers that teach hands-on skills with real-world industrial components.

Amatrol offers learning systems for a wide variety of in-demand skill sets useful throughout industry, including popular areas like electrical, electronics, fluid power, mechanical, mechatronics, and automation. These systems can also be used in conjunction with specialized programs supporting industry-recognized certifications from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), and the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA):

Amatrol also offers comprehensive learning solutions for education. For example, programs range from introducing high school students to emerging technologies to teaching hands-on skills in the latest, highly-sophisticated smart factory systems:

Visit Amatrol online to learn more about how Amatrol can help you bridge the skills gap and transform the global workforce one life at a time.

About Duane Bolin

Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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Duane Bolin
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