We’ve all read the headlines. Across sectors, machines are taking over and millions of jobs are set to be lost to automation. Yet for manufacturing ― an industry many suggest will be near the top of the list for technology-induced unemployment ― the future may actually look rather different.
According to a recent report by The Manufacturing Institute, the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs in the US could reach 2.4 million by 2028. That’s an increase of nearly 2 million in just 10 years. Far from mass unemployment then, this suggests companies must instead contend with a shortfall of workers.
Mind the gap
Some of that figure can be traced back to a growing national economy and the need for manufacturers to create more jobs to support a flourishing sector. Yet economic growth is only half the story. There’s also a widening skills gap to address.
As manufacturers move toward new business models built on data, cyber physical systems and cloud computing ― a trend commonly referred to as Industry 4.0 ― they increasingly need staff with the capabilities and confidence to work alongside new technologies and thrive in a digitized workplace. Given the figures outlined above, it seems this new generation of workers is yet to emerge.
We have, though, been here before ― and with a positive outcome. In the mid-19th century, the machines of the Industrial Revolution were replacing traditional farming methods and changing the face of agriculture. But rather than see human staff pushed out, this, in fact, led to the creation of new job roles and skills ― from machinery operators to vehicle drivers.
Fast forward to today and digitization is opening up similar opportunities for the manufacturing industry. A chance for employees at all levels and departments ― from production and engineering to sales, marketing and senior executives ― to collaborate with technology and work in new, more rewarding ways.
A new generation of workers
Of course, new job roles require new capabilities. And it’s here that the manufacturing industry needs to step up to the plate ― whether by reskilling existing staff or recruiting a different spectrum of workers.
It’s what the National Association of Manufacturers means when it talks about the need to “create a 21st century workforce,” and there are some practical steps manufacturers can (and should) take now to get ahead of the curve:
- Rebrand the industry ― there’s a clear opportunity for the industry to reposition a manufacturing career. From utilizing blockchain to reshape the supply chain to the use of 3D printing to power a new era of additive manufacturing, the skills needed by tomorrow’s workers are very different than those required today. That’s a compelling message for potential recruits, especially young people who are currently entering STEM careers at slowing rates.
- Focus on modern skills ― as big data becomes more important, workers will need strong mathematics and analytics abilities to harness it correctly. Likewise, as automated technologies take on many of the more repetitive, process-driven tasks, future workers should be encouraged to focus on softer “social intelligences” like adaptive thinking, problem solving, creativity and people management.
- Disrupt the recruitment process ― just as an accountant completes on-the-job training, manufacturing recruits should be given a chance to experience Industry 4.0 for themselves through apprenticeships and internships. As well as letting businesses identify high-performing candidates, this offers an opportunity to sell them the idea of a modern career in manufacturing early on.
- Act with purpose ― in an era of conscious consumerism, manufacturing companies should be willing to talk about their purpose. It’s what we at EY refer to as building a better working world. Communicating this purpose in the recruitment process can help attract, retain and motivate new and existing workers.
- Reinvent the reward model ― rather than basing promotion and salary decisions on tenure, manufacturers should consider building their reward model around skills. This will inspire staff to learn new capabilities and embrace fresh ways of working, thereby helping companies close the talent gap from within.
A new type of worker
Of course, all this is a long way away from what was once considered a traditional manufacturing career. Or to borrow a famous slogan from the automotive industry: this is not your father’s manufacturing job.
Indeed, as the middle class expands and technology reshapes the industry from the shop floor to the boardroom, manufacturers must accept that the “blue collar” workers of the past are giving way to the “new collar” workers of the future. It is a generation engaged and empowered by the chance to collaborate with new technologies and reach new heights of productivity, efficiency and success.
Rather than thinking in terms of conventional job roles and recruitment tactics, manufacturers should therefore act now to shape the way these Industry 4.0 jobs are created, positioned and filled .
It’s a challenging prospect. But those that do it will be best placed to unlock a new, diverse workforce with the talent, tools and ambition to close the skills gap and drive their business forward ― to 2028 and beyond.