The “fourth industrial revolution” has ushered in a new era of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence which are now set to play a pivotal role in addressing the workforce challenges faced by the manufacturing industry.
The workforce crisis in manufacturing is already a critical problem when it comes to issues such as staff shortages and skill gaps, but the advanced technology solutions which have already been revolutionizing this sector are now set to play a central role in addressing these challenges.
Reasons Behind the Workforce Crisis in Manufacturing
Before we start discussing the solutions, it’s important to understand the roots of the workforce crisis in manufacturing. Many are quick to lay the blame for much of the current industry problems on COVID-19 and the response to the pandemic, but the truth is although the pandemic did have a drastic impact on manufacturing, the industry was already facing severe workforce issues before COVID-19. There are several other factors which contribute to the current workforce challenges, the main ones being:
Aging workforce: With many experienced professionals now approaching retirement this has led to a substantial skills gap in the industry. This lack of skilled workers has become an increasing challenge as newer generations now entering the workforce often lack the specialized skills required.
Evolving nature of manufacturing jobs: As the manufacturing industry has continued to evolve, the supply of workers with the necessary skills has not kept pace. As the need for skilled workers has increased, the training required has not. This exacerbates the problems caused by the retirement of experienced workers.
Misconceptions about manufacturing careers: There is also a problem with the perception of the manufacturing industry, particularly in younger generations. It is commonly believed that advances in automation will lead to machinery replacing humans. This perception continues to deter some of the best talent from seeking careers in the industry and contributes to the high turnover in manufacturing jobs as many employees anticipate declining career prospects in the near future.
Using Advanced Simulators and Virtual Reality for Effective Training
One innovative approach to addressing the skill shortages due to the rapidly evolving nature of manufacturing jobs is the use of virtual reality and advanced simulator technologies for training. These technologies offer an immersive learning experience providing hands-on training of complex tasks in a safe virtual environment. This type of training can greatly increase manufacturing safety while accelerating the learning curve and increasing the speed of skill acquisition.
How AI Helps Keep Machines Running and Workers Focused
Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry by using predictive maintenance systems to enhance machine reliability. This AI-driven technology can analyze data from sensors and machinery to detect potential issues before they lead to costly breakdowns or accidents. This proactive approach to maintenance minimizes downtime and optimizes production efficiency. Worker productivity can also be increased by adopting AI-powered automation tools for repetitive and time-consuming tasks, freeing up human workers to focus on activities that provide greater job satisfaction.
Cutting Through the Noise: Technologies for Effective Communication
Effective communication is important in all large industries but is critically important for ensuring manufacturing safety, especially in larger facilities. Modern technology can transform a factory floor into a sensor network to enable real-time data collection and communication. This technology can include everything from noise-reducing headsets to wearables that receive immediate updates on tasks, equipment status, safety alerts, and production targets. Workers can even receive on-demand information and guidance to ensure they always have access to the right information at the right time.
Conclusion: Finding Synergy Between Technology and Workers
While technology is undoubtedly a game changer in manufacturing, it’s essential to emphasize the importance of synergy between technology and workers to prevent further staff shortages. To reduce the high staff turnover, it needs to be communicated that rather than just replacing workers, technology can also augment their capabilities and offer more satisfying careers.
Manufacturers can reduce the impact of an aging workforce in a rapidly evolving manufacturing environment by adopting a culture of continuous learning using advanced simulators/ VR technologies to ensure that employees can rapidly and safely acquire new skills to harness the full potential of advanced manufacturing technologies.