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How Will Manufacturing Labor Change?

Manufacturing leaders could be forgiven for feeling daunted by the task that lies ahead in terms of reshaping their workforce. This industry is at the center of the skills revolution driven initially by automation and robotics and then, most recently, turbo-charged by AI.

Traditional manufacturing roles are changing with new ones rolling off the production line just as quickly. These changes are acting as a forcing function for positive behavior. Nothing prompts action more than necessity, and the scale of the task ahead may be what helps the manufacturing sector to move quickly. Their challenge is too big to ignore. (Other industries under less pressure to embrace digitization and workforce shifts could lag and miss opportunities)  

The manufacturers that are automating the most are also creating the most jobs—87% plan to increase or maintain headcount as a result of automation for the third consecutive year. (See: ‘Humans Wanted’ .) Between job creation, skill mismatches, and the generational wave of worker retirements, talent shortages are at a 12-year high. Upskilling current workers can’t be the only option when outside talent isn’t available; finding the right combination of building, buying, borrowing and bridging talent is critical.

Manufacturers will need educational organizations and other industries to move with them.  ManpowerGroup can play a pivotal role in supporting the sector which prompted us to partner with MxD to map the future roles that will drive the growth of this industry. Essentially, we developed a taxonomy of skills & roles that will support the digitally transformed manufacturing organization.

Our findings, summarized in “The Future Factory” are significant for a couple of reasons. They serve as a toolkit for manufacturers to identify their evolving skills needs. They also help to demystify the robotics revolution: “the robots are coming!” no longer needs to be asserted with fear as if the end is near. Robots are here, and   they are helping to create human jobs.  Now, through the work we did with MxD, we also know that it’s possible to predict, with some level of precision, the impact that new technologies are having on employment, which functions will exist, and which will disappear or change in the next few years in direct response to digitization.

Our collaboration with MxD found that almost half of all roles in manufacturing (49 percent) will need to change within the next three to five years as the industry transitions to become fully digital. More than a quarter of roles of the factory floor will disappear. At the same time, we identified 165 new roles. Most of the new functions, such as a ‘collaborative robot specialist’, couldn’t have been imagined a decade ago.

Our study also found that technology alone won’t be enough to deliver corporate resilience. Organizations will also need to develop a ‘D-Suite’ – a community of digital-ready analytically minded and connected leaders dedicated to creating the necessary culture and capability within the organization to unlock opportunities and drive successful digital transformation.

We identified that D-suite leadership is enabled by three new capabilities:

  • Building a company culture that encourages ongoing career development
  • Championing cross-cultural collaboration to accelerate performance against near term strategies
  • Fostering innovation by taking risks and managing courageous decisions

All of these are coachable for people with the right mindset, which involves being open to learning and prepared to change course quickly to optimize opportunities.

It’s natural to fear the unknown. By dissecting an industry and developing a future playbook for each of the functions which that industry needs to perform, we are removing the guesswork from our employment futures.