Skills for an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce

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The era of Advanced Manufacturing is coming soon. Industry 4.0. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Great, right? Sounds good, huh?

Except, who’s going to do the work during this era (other than robots and computers)? What skills are they going to need?

There are going to be some skills that are specific to industries, and skills that are specific to sites, and skills that are specific to job roles. But there are also going to be some skills that are required in general. And those are going to be the skills we’ll discuss in this article.

And before you get too far down the page, don’t forget to download our free Manufacturing Training Guide before you go!

Skills Necessary for an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce

As manufacturers continue to move toward the creation of advanced manufacturing workplaces, incorporating automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the industrial internet of things (perhaps all of this can be summed up as “Industry 4.0,” skills that employees have typically relied on are likely to become less valuable and newer skills are likely to become more valuable.

For example, there are things that robots and other forms of automation can perform much better than a human can. A robot can lift loads heavier than a human can, and that robot can do it 24 hours a day. Likewise, robots and computers can do many things more quickly than humans can.

As a result, workers are going to have to focus on how to better work with automation/robots/computers and how to do things that humans do better than automation/robots/computers. The ideas listed below may expand your ideas about necessary and impactful manufacturing training for the future of work.

Critical Thinking

We need workers who can analyze situations at work and see problems or errors; who can recognize when things aren’t working or when things that used to work no longer work; and who can identify potential problems in the future before they occur.

This all takes critical-thinking skills, but it’s often true that people don’t excel at critical thinking, or at least at critical thinking in the workplace (I’ll leave that issue for you debate internally with yourself). In fact, a 2016 study of workplace managers and college graduates showed that 60% felt critical thinking was the most missing soft skill amongst recent graduates.

For more thoughts on helping employees develop critical-thinking skills, check out this interesting article A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical-Thinking Skills at HBR.

Problem-Solving

One of the things that humans really excel at is solving problems. At least, that’s something we have a great potential for and can theoretically do better than a robot can.

In some cases, you’ll hire new employees with excellent problem-solving skills, they’ll bring those skills to your workplace with no real effort on your behalf, and they’ll begin showing their value and solving problems for your organization essentially on day one.

But we can’t take it for granted that all employees will be excellent problem-solvers on their own, and we should recognize that the more skilled problem solvers an organization has, more more flexible, adaptable, and innovative that organization becomes, and the better their chances of continued or increased success become in the future.

As a result, it’s going to be important to help all employees develop and improve their problem solving skills. This includes basic training on problem-solving methodologies but also developing an organizational culture and organizational processes that facilitate and support problem-solving activities, such as Dr. Todd Conklin’s learning team exercises or the types of processes described in this recorded webinar on learning organizations.

Communication

Of course, if you’re going to problem-solve, collaborate, and work together in a team with other people, you’re going to need to know how to communicate well.

And although this isn’t an opinion that I can support with research and data at the moment, it’s my own sense that clear, effective, and productive communication can be a little scarce at the moment.

Helping workers hone and sharpen their communication skills, both verbal and written, will be to an organization’s benefit. And then of course setting up an infrastructure that allows workers to take advantage of those skills and communicate more effectively throughout your organization is also important, as discussed in this article on creating a learning ecosystem.


Team Work and Collaboration

It’s become increasingly apparent how important team work currently is in the workplace for creating, capturing, and sharing knowledge. This will continue to be true in the future, and it’s something that (at least now) humans can do better than robots and computers.

We’ll have to help our workers develop team work and collaboration skills and, of course, create opportunities for them to put those skills to work. This includes team work amongst workers who have the same job role and/or work in the same department, but also cross-departmental team work as well.

Psychological safety has been identified as a necessary precondition for effective teamwork (and great things it brings, like problem identification, problem solving, learning, and innovation). Read our article on Amy Edmonson’s book about psychological safety for more on this.

Learning Agility/Continuous Learning

We’re not going to be as efficient, productive, and innovative as we could simply by teaching workers new knowledge and new skills.

Instead, we’re going to have to help employees learn to learn. To become comfortable learning (which isn’t a universal feeling). To know how to learn effectively. To know how to learn, discard older understandings, and relearn. To know how to learn from failure.

See our interview with Arun Pradhan on Learning Agility for more on this.

Willingness to Change

It is often said that people are resistant to change.

To be honest, I don’t know it’s that true in the sense of it being a universal law or not. But I do know people do at times display an unwillingness to change.

But we know things are changing. And we know that one way things are changing is that change is going to become even more common and occur more rapidly. And so we’ve got to help workers become more comfortable with change and continual change.

Some of that will be on leadership, managers, and supervisors to correctly explain changes and why they’re needed. But it’s also going to help if people are just generally more comfortable with change. If they realize that we’ll have to let things go at times, even if they’re the kind of things that worked well for us in the past.

Check out our Change Management elearning course for more on this.


Innovation

If your organization isn’t open to and capable of innovating, you risk being the next Blockbuster. Have you asked yourself “Who’s my Netflix?” lately? Because you might want to.

The more we can help our workers develop innovation skills, the more our organizations will benefit from their innovations.

See the following articles related to innovation for more on this:

For more tips on fostering innovation at work, check out this interesting article at HBR titled Why Companies Do “Innovation Theater” Instead of Actual Innovation.

Digital Skills

Advanced Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 involve robots, computers, and sensors. By definition.

If you want to help facilitate the development of an advanced manufacturing workplace, you need to help workers develop digital and computer skills.

At some workplaces, this might start with training on Word, Excel, databases, email, and how to use online software systems such as an LMS.

And of course, this means working with computers, software systems, and PLCs on the work floor as well.

Data Analytics

We are currently awash in data. Data about performance, data about about operations, data about quality, data about safety, data about efficiency, and data about learning. Data, data, data.

So there’s so much data already, it’s hard to make sense of it all. And there’s more data coming, trust me.

The problem is, none of us have good data analytics skills. Or, if you do, you’re the exception. Part of this is explained by Daniel Kahneman and his System 1/System 2 theory of human cognition (from his book Thinking, Fast and Slow).

Regardless, we all need to sharpen out data analytics game, because the manufacturing data stream is coming right at us. So we all need to become more savvy consumers of data, including data analytics and predictive analytics.

Conclusion: How to Help Employees Cultivate Advanced Manufacturing Job Skills

If you’re in learning & development, organizational development, training, production, operations, HR, or quite a few other departments/job roles, one of the most important things you can do is to help workers develop these advanced manufacturing job skills that will help your organization succeed in the upcoming era of manufacturing.

You won’t be able to hire a workforce that already has these skills–we’re already having trouble with a massive skills gap and that will just increase.

And while technical schools, community colleges, four-year colleges/universities and other institutions in our society may help workers develop these advanced manufacturing skills, there’s no reason to believe they’ll create the entire solution.

So it stands to reason that forward-looking organizations that want to succeed will recognize the importance of these skills and help workers develop them.

What is YOUR plan for helping create the workforce of tomorrow?

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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