Made with Technology

The changing face of manufacturing careers. 

GUEST COLUMN | by David Corey 

CREDIT ATSIt’s no secret that over the past few decades, the face of manufacturing jobs has dramatically changed – especially when it comes to technology.

With a combination of IT solutions from advanced robotics to fully integrated production systems, facilities today are experiencing a new wave of manufacturing. And with “smart” manufacturing, many companies are moving towards a new level of interconnected and intelligent systems which incorporate the latest advances in sensors, robotics, 3D printing (3DP), big data, controllers and machine learning advances to build better products, operate more efficiently and communicate more effectively with customers.

Don’t assume that technology is replacing jobs. With the rise of computer-based devices and automation in manufacturing, many companies now have increased need for sophisticated, technical workers to program, operate and maintain operations.

For example, connected devices are making diagnostic data available remotely, delivering the possibility to identify, diagnose and even repair equipment via software updates and remote fixes. Every avoided trip can represent a significant cost savings and a boost to equipment utilization and profitability. Just think: when IT solutions and software can anticipate what a company’s needs, it makes everything easier, freeing the organization to focus on the bigger picture.

As a result, and to keep pace with the evolution of these “smarter” machines moving forward, manufacturers today are requiring a more highly skilled type of worker to manage the increasing complexity and shorter mind-to-market product cycles. The right IT team can fix the problems that can lead to a stressful work environment, slow down a team and jeopardize profitability. For example, enhanced IT efforts can unify all your systems and eliminate processes that require double entry, which duplicates effort and increases the risk of manual entry error with software solutions.

Manufacturing workers today must possess a wide variety of skills. For example, while technical skills have practical application, understanding algorithms and advanced computing can translate into the ability to develop advanced technologies, such as 3D-modeling and advanced robotics. Math skills can translate into applied competencies in measurement and spatial reasoning. And, strong problem-solving skills can equate to the ability to autonomously adjust robots and production systems in real-time.

Technology jobs in manufacturing today require data interpretation skills. In addition, techs need the ability to work closely with other factory floor employees and with managers and engineers. Instead of hiring a “wrench turner,” more and more supervisors are starting to understand the importance of recruiting and training employees who not only encompass strong mechanical skills, but also a great knowledge and understanding of today’s ever-changing software and technology tools and solutions.

Overall, as product development and manufacturing systems become more interwoven, workers must boast higher levels of technical and analytical skills in order to streamline processes and create production efficiency. These are typically quite specialized skills, and often require a combination of publicly available education (typically in community colleges or technical schools), vendor-based education, as well as on-the-job training.

What about the reported skills gap?

This is not new news – in fact, for years, manufacturers have reported a sizeable gap between the talent they need to keep growing their businesses and the talent they can actually find. Yet, career op­portunities forging ahead actually abound in this area. In fact, two million job openings in manufacturing are expected through 2018, mostly being attributed to the retirement of the Baby Boomers, according to a report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

However, the industry’s Manufacturing Institute predicts that many of these future jobs might go unfilled due to the lack of workers with the right technology, computer and technical skills. Why is this the case? And what can today’s companies do to solve the problem?

For one thing, continuing negative public perceptions of manufacturing jobs as low-level, dangerous or with minimal job security are a few reasons why the talent pool remains small. Changing these public perceptions to match the current realities of U.S. manufacturing is critical in addressing this worker shortage, especially among Millennials.

There must be changes in the image of manufacturing and techs in order to attract more students into the field.

Moving forward, manufacturing organizations must take the lead in managing the talent shortage by designing strategies that not only optimize talent acquisition and deployment, but also contribute to developing manufacturing skills. Manufacturers should work to build community outreach programs, design curriculums in collaboration with technical and community colleges and continue to invest in external relationships that can help attract talent.

Another approach to is to work to embed manufacturing tech options in the career counseling process in schools. Although diminished in many cases in the U.S. by lack of funding, more effective career counseling could expose students to the opportunities offered by tech jobs and the paths to getting them. Believe it or not, some companies are beginning to reach out to middle schools to expose students to these opportunities.

Company leaders also must create more opportunities for tech-savvy Millennials to get more directly involved in manufacturing – whether efforts are focused on helping them acquire traditional skills like machining, or building new skills in the increasingly IT-driven fields of plant automation, supply chain management, or new product-based Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and data analytics.

Finally, manufacturers must not only work to recruit team members with the skills required to meet today’s and tomorrow’s advanced manufacturing requirements, they must also develop and engage their existing workforces.

Creating this supply of workers with both manufacturing and technical skills is absolutely critical to the future competitiveness of companies and the industry as a whole.

David Corey is General Manager, IT Services, at Advanced Technology Services, Inc. www.advancedtech.com

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